From Sinopticon

Apart from the humans, who busy themselves like bees, there are others.
They work hard to find paths of understanding in everyday life—to understand this world. Their dedication gives them the power of queen bees.
A child walked past me and pressed the button to call the lift, his fingernail embedded with sand. I took the next lift, walked to a particular door, and pressed the doorbell. It was his mother who opened it.
The child was in the living room; he lifted his eyes from a pile of toys and just stared. Children don’t usually look at people in this intense manner. I made a simple self-introduction.
His mother invited me in, and after the customary exchange of greetings and small talk, the woman briefly outlined the duties of my role, subtly indicating the real nature of the job by way of implication. When she was certain that I had understood her intent, she happily signed the employment contract drawn up by the agency. Through the whole process, the child’s eyes remained fixed on us.
This was not a surprise. Since he was a baby, it had been how he observes the world: probing into all manner of its mysteries, and the relation between the elements within. Since signing the contract, I have been under this unending gaze for four whole years. This is my job. Ostensibly, I am the child’s art tutor. But for a family that has assumed high office for several generations, having a low-profile bodyguard who can stay with the child at all times is a great asset.
At the recommendation of the agency, I became this child’s protector, helping him avoid all the potential dangers lurking in the undercurrents of the future. People—Earth people—fear the future, yet they yearn for it. For them, that’s the realm of the chaotic and unknown, where anything could happen.
For me, everything and anything has already happened. Or more precisely, everything is happening. The flow of time is right in front of my eyes: I don’t even have to search for it. The past, the present, the future—everything that happened, is happening and will happen—flows in before me, alternating and superimposed over three-dimensional space. I sense their distance in time. This perception is innate to my people.
When we first came to Earth, we spent a long time getting to understand and adapt to human perception, by which the world is perceived in three-dimensional space via five basic sensory organs. For them, this moment only means this moment. An instant is like a slice of time, independent of the past and the future. As soon as we understood this constriction, pretending to be one of them was simple: keep silent about the world they don’t know, like a sighted person pretending to be blind.
Earth people can’t see the future. Many among them believe that their current words and actions determine their future fate. This crude simplification of cause and effect—is like a blind person believing that the knock of their cane could determine the direction of their path.
It shouldn’t be mocked. They need such beliefs.
A lot of lessons are being arranged for the child, not all of them dry and dull. Such things as Judo and violin, even though they require hard practice, he seems to find pleasure in. Yet his greatest pleasure seems to come from the sand pit in the front garden. Building walls, palaces, bridges, houses, or just drawing on the sand—mainly faces—or writing. His works are no different from those of other children. Weak, transient, uninventive. Simple and crude interpretations of the outside world—yet he gives them his all. Is he captivated by the fundamental materials that construct the myriad facets of the world, or infatuated with constructing reality in a virtual world?
I stand at a spot not too far away, quietly observing. At the same time as I’m seeing the child and the sandpit, I also see the museum he will come to build in eighteen years’ time, in another city.
At the beginning? At the beginning, it will be a mere thought. Not the story he would later recount to people, not from an old man’s collection he’d come across. Though he wouldn’t be lying: those endearing points of origin are often as delicate as dust, undetectable and inexpressible. During the last six months of his MFA in New York, he will begin to prepare his graduate show. His original plan will just be to organize an exhibition on some well-known experimental Earth photography, but slowly fermenting in his brain is a big bold idea that will come to him. He will want to build a museum. That spring, he will have become fascinated with “The Library of Babel” in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, with finding illusions—or maybe possibilities—in that South American blind man’s alley.
A mere museum will not be enough for him, and simply filling it with virtual exhibits would never satisfy him. He needs real objects: more specific and vivid manifestations of existence. No event occurs without leaving some real aftermath. This is how his friends came to understand him; people he will only meet through dragging them into this high risk project.
In the teams he will have set up will be architects, animators, painters, multimedia artists, neuroscientists, orthopedists, interior designers, experts in optics and kinetic physics, anthropologists, doctors of physics, pilots, plus a molecular biologist-cum-vet.
Some among them will be consultants responsible for providing practical and exhaustive professional knowledge. Others will be responsible for their speciality as curators.
Yet others will be the audience.
I watch the child as he patiently rakes the pit, over and over again, impervious to the fierce midsummer heat. His eyes must ache as sweat trickles into them, stinging them with salt. He rubs them, using this interval to survey the results of his work. Now he picks up the shovel and puts the sand, little by little, into an orange sieve, patiently gathering grains that have fallen off; and then pushing them into the mould he’d made, filling, compressing and flattening the surface with a knife. And then…
It won’t be raining that weekend. Spring in New York is genial enough. He will meet up with an architect friend at the High Line. They will buy two hot dogs from a stand for lunch, and chat as they walk. The sun will dance on the leaves of the trees and on the girl’s face. They will be exchanging preliminary thoughts. After a brief silence, before Rojas’ giant concrete cube, he will invite the girl to take part in the interior design of the museum.
I watch the child as he grips the outside of the mould, lifting it up straight and slow. A pyramid of sand emerges from the mould, only to split and scatter to the ground…
The morning will not have gone well. When he leaves home he will find that the drains have blocked up. And his appointment with the professor to go through his graduation assignment would turn out to be a wild goose chase. The orthopedist would inform him that there’s no way to obtain the bone-dating X-rays he wanted. The science fiction novel he will have purchased from a second-hand bookstand will be missing important pages. Sitting in his usual seat in the library, he will open his laptop, and receive an email from the sculptor…
I watch the child as his gaze fixes on the stream of water splashing from the watering can, at the bubbles being forced from the sand, until eventually even the darkness of water begins to disappear. It’s now time to re-create his sand piece. He extracts the plastic tube and creates his most important work, the elliptical sand piece. Surrounding him is the ditch he has excavated to build a city.
The museum would be built, in the end.
On the day of its completion, he will celebrate with all the members of his team; on a particular late night, he will carry out a midnight inspection of the exhibits, holding his girlfriend’s hand, the love on his face resembling a small animal just about to feed. During the period he will feel most lost, every morning he will gaze down on this drowsy, waking city from the window next to the wall on which is written the law of gravity. In a few years’ time, his child would be even more fond of this spot, and have even more important tasks to complete.
Since when have I been preoccupied with this child’s future? To be more precise, his presence in the museum. I sink deeper into my infatuation. No matter where my body is, or what I’m doing, my gaze is drawn towards this small museum in ‘future’ New York, on the ninth day after its completion, the seventh day after the fourth month of completion, the tenth day after the twentieth month: any time in which it exists. In particular, I love to see it when no one is around.
No one here except the exhibits, my consciousness roaming among them.
Bright and quirky science-fiction posters, typewriters, Einstein’s formula, cat food tins, space suits, old photographs and writing desks. Objects, most of which could be found at vintage fairs, will be most deferentially and respectfully put on display here. I have compared them meticulously with new products and ordinary second-hand products. What is the difference? These objects have all been involved in major thought experiments, and cast back into everyday life afterwards. But what are the special traces that remain? What part of them have been exploited and taken?
I carefully walk past them, fearful of leaving any traces of my presence, fearful that my gaze would leave an irrevocable change. These remnants of past events are here, to prove the events they have been part of. This is unfathomable to me, for whom the streams of time are clearly visible; for whom the past, the present and the future always appear together. I have never needed these superfluous vestiges. And yet, I can’t keep my eyes from these remains of past events that have been placed here; anonymous objects placed on the shallow shores along the stream of time. Like a strange hobbyist who loves to walk in graveyards, I gaze at them, infatuated. Now, my heart feels calm and serene. Even immersed in the endless rhythms of the river of time, I am beginning to feel something akin to coming to a lulling stop that I have never felt before, the end of perception, like—
Yes, all life will eventually conclude, but the traces they leave behind will remain in other things. They may not be remembered, or even noticed, but they would be there.
This museum will live for far longer than the child will.
Longer than his friends, family, and longer than most human beings.
Several hundred years later, when the American continent will be flying like a lonely island through the solar system to seek the shelter of another star, it will still be standing in the place it was built—New York’s old Brooklyn, where an alien will decide to let her body be modified.
There she would tell Earth’s people the truth about the American continent. This truth will be remembered as an allegory.
I only need to turn 44.4 degrees southwest, look past several nexae (in terms of your three-dimensional spatial awareness, imagine directing your sight into the distance, and through any objects which happen to obscure your view, till at last you focus on the object you’re seeking) to be able to see the moment in which she reveals the truth.
That moment will exist, and to me, already does.
You should understand by now that I am not from this planet, not a “People of Earth”. People—as a word—is unique to Earth. We don’t say “people”, nor do we like to be referred to as “people from outer space.”
When the child was four, I became his bodyguard, pretending to be “People” and concealing myself within this ancient and dusty city. The city is filthy. In the winter the snow falls like goose feathers, in spring the sky fills up with sand. Where there used to be a palace, now the leaders of this country live. From the centre point of this red area, ring by ring, the city has expanded and swelled, its bloated body filling with millions of higher life forms who are all strangers to each other. For our kind, there is no safer place to hide our identity.
I protect the child and guard his time stream, guaranteeing that his past, present and future are all perfect, without a flaw. His parents have been very satisfied. The child trusts me too. He seems to know that I would keep his company forever.
Perhaps it is so. Perhaps—not.
Even when my body is here, my gaze is roaming the museum. Part of me exists there.
Of course, I will die too. At a particular time, in a particular way. If I wanted to, I could have seen my own future, seen the ridiculous fashion in which I will have died. But why would I have wanted to do that? Every moment that I am alive, I co-exist with the future, co-exist with the past, feeling every beat in the rhythm of the dance of time. Rather than a short straight line, my life can better be described as an eternal point in the chaos of time and space. My future will never disappear.
In a way, I have always been the guardian of this museum.
My heart beats, buried in the museum.
I am one of the countless beating hearts of the museum.

from Graeber D. (2018). Bullshit jobs chapter 7

At this point, my own instinct is to turn for inspiration from Vonnegut to a different science-fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem, whose space voyager Ijon Tichy describes a visit to a planet inhabited by a species to which the author gives the rather unsubtle name of Phools. At the time of his arrival the Phools were experiencing a classic Marxian overproduction crisis. Traditionally, they had been divided into Spiritors (Priests), Eminents (Aristocrats), and Drudgelings (Workers). As one helpful native explained:

“Through the ages inventors built machines that simplified work, and where in ancient times a hundred Drudgelings had bent their sweating backs, centuries later a few stood by a machine. Our scientists improved the machines, and the people rejoiced at this, but subsequent events show how cruelly premature was that rejoicing.”

The factories, ultimately, became a little too efficient, and one day an engineer created machines that could operate with no supervision at all:

“When the New Machines appeared in the factories, hordes of Drudgelings lost their jobs; and, receiving no salary, they faced starvation.”

“Excuse me, Phool,” I asked, “but what became of the profits the factories made?”

“The profits,” he replied, “went to the rightful owners, of course. Now, then, as I was saying, the threat of annihilation hung—”

“But what are you saying, worthy Phool!” I cried. “All that had to be done was to make the factories common property, and the New Machines would have become a blessing to you!”

The minute I say this the Phool trembled, blinked his ten eyes nervously, and cupped his ears to ascertain whether any of his companions milling about the stairs had overheard my remark.

“By the Ten Noses of the Phoo, I implore you, O stranger, do not utter such vile heresy, which attacks the very foundations of our freedom! Our supreme law, the principle of Civic Initiative, states that no one can be compelled, constrained, or even coaxed to do what he does not wish. Who, then, would dare expropriate the Eminents’ factories, it being their will to enjoy possession of same? That would be the most horrible violation of liberty imaginable. Now, then, to continue, the New Machines produced an abundance of extremely cheap goods and excellent food, but the Drudgelings bought nothing, for they had not the wherewithal—”

Before long, the Drudgelings, though—as Tichy’s interlocutor insisted, entirely free to do what they wanted provided they did not interfere in anyone else’s property rights—were dropping like flies. Much heated debate ensued, and a succession of failed half measures. The Phools’ high council, the Plenum Moronicum, attempted to replace the Drudgelings as consumers as well, by creating robots that would eat, use, and enjoy all the products the New Machines produced far more intensely than any living being could possibly do, while also materializing money to pay for it. But this was unsatisfying. Finally, realizing a system where both production and consumption were being done by machines was rather pointless, they concluded the best solution would be for the entire population to render itself—entirely voluntarily—to the factories to be converted into beautiful shiny disks and arranged in pleasant patterns across the landscape.
This might seem heavy-handed, but sometimes, I think, a dose of heavy-handed Marxism is exactly what we need. Lem is right. It’s hard to imagine a surer sign that one is dealing with an irrational economic system than the fact that the prospect of eliminating drudgery is considered to be a problem.

from Graeber D. (2018). Bullshit jobs

In theory, feudal society was a vast system of service: not only serfs but also lower-ranking feudal lords “served” higher ones, just as higher ones provided feudal service to the king. However, the form of service that had the most important and pervasive influence on most people’s lives was not feudal service but what historical sociologists have called “life-cycle” service. Essentially, almost everyone was expected to spend roughly the first seven to fifteen years of his or her working life as a servant in someone else’s household. Most of us are familiar with how this worked itself out within craft guilds, where teenagers would first be assigned to master craftsmen as apprentices, and then become journeymen, but only when they achieved the status of master craftsmen would they have the means to marry and set up their own households and shops, and take apprentices of their own. In fact, the system was in no sense limited to artisans. Even peasants normally expected to spend their teenage years onward as “servants in husbandry” in another farm household, typically, that of someone just slightly better off. Service was expected equally of girls and boys (that’s what milkmaids were: daughters of peasants during their years of service), and was usually expected even of the elite. The most familiar example here would be pages, who were apprentice knights, but even noblewomen, unless they were at the very top of the hierarchy, were expected to spend their adolescence as ladies-in-waiting—that is, servants who would “wait upon” a married noblewoman of slightly higher rank, attending to her privy chamber, toilette, meals, and so forth, even as they were also “waiting” for such time as they, too, were in a position to marry and become the lady of an aristocratic household themselves. Royal courts similarly had “gentleman waiters,” who attended to the privy chamber of the king.
In the case of young nobles, “waiting” largely meant waiting for an inheritance—or for one’s parents to decide one was old and sufficiently well groomed to merit a transfer of title and property. This might be the case for servants in husbandry as well, but generally speaking, among commoners, servants were paid and expected to save a good share of their wages. So they were acquiring both the knowledge and experience needed to manage a household, shop, or farm, and also the wealth needed to acquire one—or, in the case of women, to be able to offer a dowry to a suitor able to do the same. As a result, medieval people married late, usually around thirty, which meant that “youth”—adolescence, a time when one was expected to be at least a little wild, lustful, and rebellious—would often last a good fifteen to twenty years.
The fact that servants were paid is crucial because it meant that while wage labor did exist in Northern Europe, centuries before the dawn of capitalism, almost everyone in the Middle Ages assumed that it was something respectable people engaged in only in the first phase of their working life. Service and wage labor were largely identified; even in Oliver Cromwell’s time, day laborers could still be referred to as “servants.” Service, in turn, was seen above all as the process whereby young people learned not only their trade, but the “manners,” the comportment appropriate to a responsible adult. As one oft-quoted account by a Venetian visitor to England put it around 1500: The want of affection in the English is strongly manifested toward their children; for after having kept them at home till they arrive at the age of seven or nine years at the utmost, they put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the households of other people, binding them generally for seven or nine years. And these are called apprentices, and during that time they perform all the most menial offices; and few are born who are exempted from this fate, for everyone, however rich he may be, sends away his children into the houses of others, whilst he, in return, receives those of strangers into his own. And on inquiring their reason for this severity, they answered that they did it in order that their children learn better manners. Manners, in the medieval and Early Modern sense, went well beyond etiquette; the term referred to one’s manner of acting and being in the world more generally, one’s habits, tastes, and sensibilities. Young people were expected to work for wages in the households of others because—unless one was intending to join the clergy and become a scholar—what we would consider paid work, and what we would consider education, were seen as largely the same thing, and both were a process of learning self-discipline, about “achiev[ing] mastery of one’s baser desires” and learning how to behave like a proper self-contained adult.
This is not to say that medieval and Early Modern culture had no place for the rambunctiousness of youth. To the contrary. Young people, even though in service in others’ households, typically also created an alternative culture of their own, centered on youth lodges with names such as the Lords of Misrule and Abbots of Unreason, which sometimes were even allowed to take temporary power during the popular festivals. Yet ultimately, disciplined work under the direction of an adult head of a household was to transform the young into self-disciplined adults, at which point they would no longer have to work for others but would be self-employed.

As a result of such arrangements, attitudes toward work in medieval Northern Europe look quite different from those that prevailed in the classical world, or even, as we’ve seen, the later Mediterranean. (The Venetian ambassador was scandalized by English practices.) Most of our sources from Greek and Roman antiquity are male aristocrats who saw physical labor or service as fit only for women or slaves. Work, Aristotle insisted, in no sense makes you a better person; in fact, it makes you a worse one, since it takes up so much time, thus making it difficult to fulfill one’s social and political obligations. As a result, the punishment aspect of work tended to be emphasized in classical literature, while the creative and godlike aspect was largely seen as falling to those male heads of household rich enough that they didn’t actually have to get their hands dirty but could tell others what to do. In Northern Europe in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, almost everyone was expected to get their hands dirty at some point or another. As a result, work, especially paid work, was seen as transformative. This is important because it means that certain key aspects of what was to become known as the Protestant work ethic were already there, long before the emergence of Protestantism.

How, with the advent of capitalism, work came to be seen in many quarters either as a means of social reform or ultimately as a virtue in its own right, and how laborers countered by embracing the labor theory of value

No adequate history of the meanings of work has been written.

—C. Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Classes, 1951
All this was to change with the advent of capitalism. By “capitalism,” here I am referring not to markets—these had long existed—but to the gradual transformation of relations of service into permanent relations of wage labor: that is, a relation between some people who owned capital, and others who did not and thus were obliged to work for them. What this meant in human terms was, first of all, that millions of young people found themselves trapped in permanent social adolescence. As the guild structures broke down, apprentices could become journeymen, but journeymen could no longer become masters, which meant that, in traditional terms, they would not be a position to marry and start families of their own. They were expected to live their entire lives effectively as unfinished human beings. Inevitably, many began to rebel, give up on the interminable waiting, and began marrying early, abandoning their masters to set up cottages and families of their own—which, in turn, set off a wave of moral panic among the emerging employing class very reminiscent of later moral panics about teenage pregnancy. The following is from The Anatomie of Abuses, a sixteenth-century manifesto by a Puritan named Phillip Stubbes:

And besides this, you shall have every saucy boy, of ten, fourteen, sixteen, or twenty years of age, catch up a woman, and marry her, without any fear of God at all . . . or, which is more, without any respect how they may live together, with sufficient maintenance for their callings and estate. No, no! It maketh no matter for these things, so he have his pretty pussy to huggle withall, for that is the only thing he desireth. Then build they up a cottage, though but of elder poles, in every lane end almost, where they live as beggers all their life after. This filleth the land with such store of mendicants . . . that in short time it is like to grow to great poverty and scarceness.

It was at this moment that one can speak of the birth of the proletariat as a class—a term derived appropriately enough from a Latin word for “those who produce offspring,” since in Rome, the poorest citizens who did not have enough wealth to tax were useful to the government only by producing sons who could be drafted into the army.
Stubbes’s Anatomie of Abuses might be considered the very manifesto of the Puritan “Reformation of Manners,” as they called it, which was very much a middle-class vision, with an equally jaundiced view of both the carnality of court life, and the “heathenish rioting” of popular entertainment. It also shows it’s impossible to understand debates about Puritanism and the origins of the Protestant work ethic without understanding this larger context of the decline of life-cycle service and creation of a proletariat. English Calvinists (actually they were only called “Puritans” by those who disliked them) tended to be drawn from the class of master craftsmen and “improving” farmers who were employing this newly created proletariat, and their “Reformation of Manners” took special aim at popular festivals, gaming, drinking, “and all the annual rites of misrule when youth temporarily inverted the social order.” The Puritan ideal was for all such “masterless men” to be rounded up, and placed under the stern discipline of a pious household whose patriarch could direct them in work and prayer. But this was just the first of a long history of attempts to reform the manners of the lower classes that has followed, from Victorian workhouses where the poor were taught proper time discipline, to workfare and similar government programs today.
Why, starting in the sixteenth century, did the middle classes suddenly develop such an interest in reforming the moral comportment of the poor—a subject they had not previously found of much interest one way or the other? This has always been something of a historical mystery. In the context of life-cycle service, though, it actually makes perfect sense. The poor were seen as frustrated adolescents. Work—and specifically, paid labor under the eye of a master—had traditionally been the means by which such adolescents learned how to be proper, disciplined, self-contained adults. While in practical terms Puritans and other pious reformers could no longer promise much to the poor—certainly not adulthood as it used to be conceived, as freedom from the need to work under the orders of others—they substituted charity, discipline, and a renewed infusion of theology. Work, they taught, was both punishment and redemption. Work was self-mortification and as such had value in itself, even beyond the wealth it produced, which was merely a sign of God’s favor (and not to be enjoyed too much.)
After the industrial revolution, the celebration of work was taken up with renewed vigor by the Methodists, but even more, if anything, in educated middle-class circles that didn’t see themselves as particularly religious. Perhaps its greatest advocate was Thomas Carlyle, an enormously popular essayist, who, concerned with the decline of morality in the new Age of Mammon, proposed what he called a Gospel of Work. Carlyle insisted that labor should not be viewed as a way to satisfy material needs, but as the essence of life itself; God had intentionally created the world unfinished so as to allow humans the opportunity to complete His work through labor:

A man perfects himself by working . . . Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of Labour, the whole soul of man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these like helldogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor day-worker, as of every man; but he bends himself with free valour against his task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow of Labour in him, is it not purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up? All true Work is sacred; in all true Work, were it but true hand-labour, there is something of divineness . . . Oh brother, if this is not “worship,” then I say, the more the pity for worship; for this is the noblest thing yet discovered under God’s sky. Who art thou that complainest of thy life of toil? Complain not. Look up, my wearied brother; see thy fellow Workmen there, in God’s Eternity, sacred Band of the Immortals, celestial Bodyguard of the Empire of Mankind.

Carlyle was ultimately led to the conclusion so many reach today: that if work is noble, then the most noble work should not be compensated, since it is obscene to put a price on something of such absolute value (“the ‘wages’ of every noble Work do yet lie in Heaven or else nowhere”)—though he was generous enough to allow that the poor did need to be afforded “fair wages” in order to obtain the means to live.
Such arguments were immensely popular in middle-class circles. Unsurprisingly, the worker’s movement beginning to form in Europe around Carlyle’s time was less impressed. Most workers involved in Luddism, Chartism, Ricardian Socialism, and the various early strains of English radicalism would probably have agreed there was something divine in work, but that divine quality lay not in its effect on the soul and body—as laborers, they knew better than that—but that it was the source of wealth; everything that made rich and powerful people rich and powerful was, in fact, created by the efforts of the poor. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the founders of British economic science, had embraced the labor theory of value—as did many of the new industrialists, since it allowed them to distinguish themselves from the landed gentry, whom they represented as mere idle consumers—but the theory was almost instantly taken up by Socialists and labor organizers and turned against the industrialists themselves. Before long economists began seeking for alternatives on explicitly political grounds. Already in 1832—that is, thirty-five years before the appearance of Marx’s Capital—we encounter warnings like the following: “That labor is the sole source of wealth seems to be a doctrine as dangerous as it is false, as it unhappily affords a handle to those who would represent all property as belonging to the working classes, and the share which is received by others as a robbery or fraud upon them.”
By the 1830s, many were, in fact, proclaiming exactly that. It is important to emphasize just how universally accepted the labor theory of value became in the generations immediately following the industrial revolution—even before the dissemination of Marx’s works, which gave such arguments a renewed energy and a more sophisticated theoretical language. It was particularly powerful in Britain’s American colonies. The mechanics and tradesmen who became the foot soldiers of the American War of Independence represented themselves as producers of the wealth that they saw the British crown as looting, and after the Revolution, many turned the same language against would-be capitalists. “The solid rock on which their idea of the good society rested,” as one historian put it, “was that labor created all wealth.” The word “capitalist” at that time was largely a term of abuse. When US President Abraham Lincoln delivered his first annual message to Congress in 1861, for instance, he included the following lines, which, radical though they seem to a contemporary ear, where really just a reflection of the common sense of the time:

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Still, Lincoln went on to insist, what made the United States different from Europe, indeed what made its democracy possible, was that it lacked a permanent population of wage laborers:

“There is not of necessity any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages a while, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.”

In other words, even though he didn’t put it quite this way, Lincoln argued that, owing to America’s rapid economic and territorial expansion, it was possible there to maintain something like the old medieval system, in which everyone started out working for others, then used the proceeds of wage labor to set up shop, or buy a farm (on land seized from its indigenous inhabitants), and then eventually themselves play the capitalist, employing young people as laborers in their own right.
This was definitely the ideal in pre–Civil War America—though Lincoln was from Illinois, not too far from the frontier; workingmen’s associations in the old cities of the Eastern Seaboard were already taking issue with arguments like this. What’s significant here is that Lincoln felt he had to accept the labor theory of value as the framework of debate. Everyone did. This remained the case at least until the end of the century. It was true even along the Western frontier, where one might have imagined European-style class tensions were least likely to flare up. In 1880 a Protestant “home missionary” who had spent some years traveling along the Western frontier reported that: “You can hardly find a group of ranchmen or miners from Colorado to the Pacific who will not have on their tongue’s end the labor slang of Denis Kearney, the infidel ribaldry of [atheist pamphleteer] Robert Ingersoll, the Socialistic theories of Karl Marx.”
Certainly a detail left out of every cowboy movie I ever saw! (The notable exception being The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which does indeed begin with a scene where John Huston, as a miner, explains the labor theory of value to Humphrey Bogart.)

Since apparently there's still no good PDF to epub conversion (how is this not something “AI” can do?) here's what I'm doing to make PDFs readable without eye strain.



The way I have it written expects the syntax sh myfile.pdf
pdfname=$(basename -s .pdf "$1")
set aside the original filename
convert -density 300 "$1" -quality 100 output.jpg
turns the PDF pages into .jpg images in the working directory
for i in output*.jpg; do convert -verbose $i -colorspace RGB -sepia-tone 92% $i-sepia.jpg; rm $i; done
applies sepia filter to the extracted images
img2pdf *-sepia.jpg -o out-sepia.pdf
makes a new pdf from the filtered images
rm *-sepia.jpg
now you have an uncropped sepia pdf which we will now compress, crop, and OCR
pdf2ps -dLanguageLevel=3 out-sepia.pdf
turns the PDF into a postscript document. I don't even know what that is
rm out-sepia.pdf; ps2pdf -dPDFSETTINGS=/ebook psout-sepia.pdf; rm *.ps
turns the postscript back into a compressed PDF
pdfcropmargins -v -s psout-sepia.pdf; rm psout-sepia.pdf
auto-crops the margins
ocrmypdf psout-sepia_cropped.pdf "$pdfname-sepia".pdf
run OCR since we lost any original OCR in the convert process


Full script

pdfname=$(basename -s .pdf "$1")
convert -density 300 "$1" -quality 100 output.jpg
for i in output*.jpg; do convert -verbose $i -colorspace RGB -sepia-tone 92% $i-sepia.jpg; rm $i; done
img2pdf *-sepia.jpg -o out-sepia.pdf
rm *-sepia.jpg
pdf2ps -dLanguageLevel=3 out-sepia.pdf
rm out-sepia.pdf
ps2pdf -dPDFSETTINGS=/ebook psout-sepia.pdf
rm *.ps
pdfcropmargins -v -s psout-sepia.pdf
rm psout-sepia.pdf
ocrmypdf psout-sepia_cropped.pdf "$pdfname-sepia".pdf
rm psout-sepia_cropped.pdf

📕 I've been reading manga on my iPad and find that the downside of high-quality scans is that the contrast is very harsh with super bright whites. In lieu of a reader with a white balance/sepia filter, I made an overly complex and slow solution to do it manually to the files themselves.

Things to install

  • Imagemagick to apply a sepia filter
  • reCBZ to rezip while applying some gentle compression.


Since .cbz is just a .zip, and I don't think there's a way to edit the files while still in the archive, I do the following:

mkdir temp

unzip -d temp Manga.cbz

cp "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)" ./ #set aside cover

find temp -type f -exec mogrify -verbose -set colorspace RGB -sepia-tone 92% {}\; #the actual sepia conversion

mv ./$(basename "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)") "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)" #return the original cover

(cd temp && zip -x '**/.*' -r ../ .)

rm -r temp



This leaves you with a sepia filtered and compressed Manga-sepia [reCBZ].cbz. Let's break down some of these commands:
The reason I use find ... -exec mogrify rather than just applying the mogrify to * in temp is because while most manga I've downloaded use a relatively flat directory structure, some have subfolders like this:

tree Monster\ v03\ -\ Perfect\ Edition
├── v03c33
│   ├── 0.01.jpg
│   ├── 0.02.jpg
│   └── 0.30.jpg
├── v03c34
│   ├── 0.01.jpg
│   └── 0.26.jpg

So with find -exec we can just recursively enter those folders and convert everything.
In most of the manga downloads I've checked out, the full-color cover is named with 000 like One Piece v01/One Piece v1-000.jpg, so adding ! -iname "*000.*" will skip making that image sepia, preserving the original cover (mostly so the thumbnails in my manga reader aren't all brown). Actually, this is too inconsistent so instead we have this monstrous piped find command which first sets aside the first file that sort -V provides (god willing it's the same logic as .cbz readers use) and then moves it back before re-zipping (with even ! -iname ".*" to exclude .DS_Store, for me). There has to be a better way to do this.
mogrify is an imagemagick command. -sepia-tone won't work if the image is in grayscale colorspace and I had trouble with other modes (CMYK I think) so for now I just convert everything to RGB first. 92% is the strength of the sepia filter, you can play with the value to get something you like.
I'm on macOS so I add -x '**/.*' to the zip command to exclude .DS_Store. (cd temp ... ../ .) moves into the temp folder to create the zip so that it isn't included in the .zip itself. In a lot of cases this could be achieved with zip -j but this way avoids conflicts if the file structure has multiple directories.
reCBZ isn't necessary, you could just zip it into a .cbz but it's pretty quick and sometimes saves 10-20% on filesize. Sometimes it grows files for me, not sure why. You can add --size WidthxHeight to it or use one of the premade profiles to optimize the image size for your device. See the wiki. And if you want to just overwrite the original .cbz, you can add -O to edit them in-place.
For a folder full of .cbz files, you can do a loop like:
for i in *.cbz; do mkdir temp; unzip -d temp $i; cp "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)" ./ ; find temp -type f -exec mogrify -verbose -set colorspace RGB -sepia-tone 92% {} \; ; mv ./$(basename "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)") "$(find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1)"; (cd temp && zip -x '**/.*' -r ../$ .); rm -r temp; recbz $; rm $; done.

Sample page:

Sample High quality


🙃 keep original color in cover image of each volume/chapter / only apply sepia to grayscale pages

this should be accomplished most of the time by adding ! -iname "*000*"to the find command, becuase the color covers are usually named with 000 like One Piece v01/One Piece v1-000.jpg. The ! makes it a negated condition.

nevermind that's not working cause some file are naming 0001.jpg so i made it -iname *000.* but that doesn't work for covers named 0001.jpg so now it's find temp -type f ! -name '.*' | sort -V | head -1 to just get the first file

✅ zip directories correctly lol

looks like the easiest way to do this will be to enclose the zipping in parantheses (source)

find ...
(cd directory && zip -r ../ .)

nevermind this doen't work in loops yes it does

[From Marxism and the Philosophy of Science, Helena Sheehan, Verso Books 2018, ISBN 9781786634269]

The first round of the battle was against the criticists: P.B. Struve, N.A. Berdyaev, M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky, S.N. Bulgakov, and S.L. Frank. They are most often referred to as “legal Marxists,” as they lived and wrote under their own names and did not participate in underground activity, unlike those who lived hunted lives under pseudonyms or were sent into exile. The “legal Marxists” in some respects anticipated Bernsteinian revisionism and in others reflected it. Politically, they were in favor of evolutionary socialism, the gradual achievement of reform within the existing institutions. They went so far in their insistence on the necessity of the capitalist stage of development as to regard it as an end in itself, with the socialist movement as the means to achieve it, rather than the other way round. Struve, like Bernstein, influenced by the Fabians, enjoined Russian social democrats not to concern themselves with unrealistic projects of “heaven-storming” but instead to “learn in the school of capitalism.”[^3]
Like their foreign counterparts, the “legal Marxists” sought to disengage Marxist social theory (such as remained of it after their revisions in that sphere) from its philosophical foundations. They too argued that historical materialism could be reconciled with neo-Kantianism or positivism or other possible alternatives as well. For themselves, they tended to neo-Kantianism, believing that Marxism as a scientific determinist account of history did not encompass the sphere of ethical principles and that these must be derived from other sources. Both Struve and Berdyaev put heavy emphasis on the need for the sort of ontological foundation for values that led them eventually to the reality of the Absolute as a grounding for absolute values. Even during their period of active involvement in the social democratic movement, they were Marxists with so many reservations as to make their self-identification as Marxists highly questionable. They soon followed their line of thinking to its logical conclusion and abandoned the field, ceasing to consider themselves Marxists at all.
This coincided with the rise of a genuine liberal movement in Russia and the falling away of this group from Marxism reflected the emergence of a liberal alternative to Marxism within the bourgeois intelligentsia. Years later, Lenin summed up their place in the movement’s history: “They were bourgeois democrats for whom the breach with narodism meant a transition from petty bourgeois (or peasant) socialism, not to proletarian socialism, as in our case, but to bourgeois liberalism.”[^4]
As they were essentially liberals and liberals everywhere were abandoning materialism, this group too believed that scientific optimism, faith in progress, and all forms of naturalism, had had their day and that idealism was on the march everywhere. Being Russian, they took the process to a more extreme stage than their opposite numbers in the west. Struve, Berdyaev, Bulgakov, and Frank all found their way back to Christianity. This transition was marked in 1903 by the publication of Problems of Idealism, in which these authors and others explained the reasoning behind their evolution from Marxism to idealism. It was a concerted attack on atheism, materialism, determinism, evolutionism, rationalism, and collectivism, in short, on all the hitherto accepted liberal values, as symptoms of intellectual impoverishment. They condemned Marxism for moral nihilism and contempt of personality, for sacrifice of the individual to the collective, for sacrifice of the present to the future. All the essays were pervaded by an intense personalism and longing for transcendence. The intrinsic value of human personality and the absolute validity of moral norms required, for them, the postulation of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. They insisted that materialism was incompatible with morality, that laws of nature and history were incompatible with the freedom of the individual. They even invoked Nietzsche in associating socialism with mediocrity and the values of the herd.[^5] Berdyaev, who became the best known in later years, continued for many years to engage in criticism of Marxism, both of its philosophy and of its politics and constantly reiterated the contention that dialectical materialism was an inherently contradictory philosophy based on absolutely irreconcilable elements: “Dialectics, which stands for complexity, and materialism, which results in a narrow one-sidedness of view, are as mutually repellent as water and oil.”[^6] Berdyaev was a powerful and brilliant writer and his later works often were remarkable for powerful insights into the Russian context of Soviet Marxism.
Marxists criticized this group for having turned their back on the oppressed in their glorification of egocentrism and in their adherence to religion, which they saw as an instrument of oppression. The foremost critic against this group was Lyubov Axelrod, who wrote under the pseudonym “Orthodox.” A pupil of Plekhanov’s while in exile, she held a Swiss doctorate in philosophy, was an active social democrat, and returned to Russia in 1906. She stressed the continuity between the natural sciences and human history and defended materialism against this reversion to idealism on the part of those who had previously stood with them. She defended determinism, both natural and historical, against the neo-Kantians, particularly Stammler who had objected that it was inconsistent to believe in both historical inevitability and revolutionary will. For Axelrod, this contention only reflected the fear of the future characteristic of a class that history had doomed to destruction.[^7]
[^3]: Pyotr Struve, Critical Notes on the Question of Economic Development in Russia (1894), cited by E.H. Carr in The Bolshevik Revolution 1 (London, 1966), p. 21.

[^4]: Lenin, “Preface to the Collection Twelve Years,” in Against Revisionism (Moscow, 1966), p. 94.

[^5]: Problemy idealizma, (St. Petersburg, 1903).

[^6]: Nikolai Berdyaev, Wahrheit und Lüge des Kommunismus (Lucerne, 1934), p. 84.

[^7]: Lyubov Axelrod, O problemakh idealizma (Odessa, 1905); Filosofskie ocherki (St. Petersburg, 1906).

Just discovered this, no idea if it's a new or old feature.

Open a book like a .epub in, right click in the text and you'll get the option Speech > Start reading. macOS will start reading the book aloud even flipping pages with your default text-to-speech settings.
Update: actually, you can just enter the book window with nothing selected and hit option + esc to start it.
To get a good Siri voice and speed as your default text-to-speech, follow the instructions here in the section Download Siri voice model.

Jack London (1905)

It is quite fair to say that I became a Socialist in a fashion somewhat similar to the way in which the Teutonic pagans became Christians—it was hammered into me. Not only was I not looking for Socialism at the time of my conversion, but I was fighting it. I was very young and callow, did not know much of anything, and though I had never even heard of a school called “Individualism,” I sang the paean of the strong with all my heart.
This was because I was strong myself. By strong I mean that I had good health and hard muscles, both of which possessions are easily accounted for. I had lived my childhood on California ranches, my boyhood hustling newspapers on the streets of a healthy Western city, and my youth on the ozone-laden waters of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. I loved life in the open, and I toiled in the open, at the hardest kinds of work. Learning no trade, but drifting along from job to job, I looked on the world and called it good, every bit of it. Let me repeat, this optimism was because I was healthy and strong, bothered with neither aches nor weaknesses, never turned down by the boss because I did not look fit, able always to get a job at shovelling coal, sailorizing, or manual labor of some sort.
And because of all this, exulting in my young life, able to hold my own at work or fight, I was a rampant individualist. It was very natural. I was a winner. Wherefore I called the game, as I saw it played, or thought I saw it played, a very proper game for MEN. To be a MAN was to write man in large capitals on my heart. To adventure like a man, and fight like a man, and do a man's work (even for a boy's pay)—these were things that reached right in and gripped hold of me as no other thing could. And I looked ahead into long vistas of a hazy and interminable future, into which, playing what I conceived to be MAN'S game, I should continue to travel with unfailing health, without accidents, and with muscles ever vigorous. As I say, this future was interminable. I could see myself only raging through life without end like one of Nietzsche's blond-beasts, lustfully roving and conquering by sheer superiority and strength.
As for the unfortunates, the sick, and ailing, and old, and maimed, I must confess I hardly thought of them at all, save that I vaguely felt that they, barring accidents, could be as good as I if they wanted to real hard, and could work just as well. Accidents? Well, they represented FATE, also spelled out in capitals, and there was no getting around FATE. Napoleon had had an accident at Waterloo, but that did not dampen my desire to be another and later Napoleon. Further, the optimism bred of a stomach which could digest scrap iron and a body which flourished on hardships did not permit me to consider accidents as even remotely related to my glorious personality.
I hope I have made it clear that I was proud to be one of Nature's strong-armed noblemen. The dignity of labor was to me the most impressive thing in the world. Without having read Carlyle, or Kipling, I formulated a gospel of work which put theirs in the shade. Work was everything. It was sanctification and salvation. The pride I took in a hard day's work well done would be inconceivable to you. It is almost inconceivable to me as I look back upon it. I was as faithful a wage slave as ever capitalist exploited. To shirk or malinger on the man who paid me my wages was a sin, first, against myself, and second, against him. I considered it a crime second only to treason and just about as bad.
In short, my joyous individualism was dominated by the orthodox bourgeois ethics. I read the bourgeois papers, listened to the bourgeois preachers, and shouted at the sonorous platitudes of the bourgeois politicians. And I doubt not, if other events had not changed my career, that I should have evolved into a professional strike-breaker, (one of President Eliot's American heroes), and had my head and my earning power irrevocably smashed by a club in the hands of some militant trades-unionist.
Just about this time, returning from a seven months' voyage before the mast, and just turned eighteen, I took it into my head to go tramping. On rods and blind baggages I fought my way from the open West where men bucked big and the job hunted the man, to the congested labor centres of the East, where men were small potatoes and hunted the job for all they were worth. And on this new blond-beast adventure I found myself looking upon life from a new and totally different angle. I had dropped down from the proletariat into what sociologists love to call the “submerged tenth,” and I was startled to discover the way in which that submerged tenth was recruited.
I found there all sorts of men, many of whom had once been as good as myself and just as blond-beast; sailor-men, soldier-men, labor-men, all wrenched and distorted and twisted out of shape by toil and hardship and accident, and cast adrift by their masters like so many old horses. I battered on the drag and slammed back gates with them, or shivered with them in box cars and city parks, listening the while to life-histories which began under auspices as fair as mine, with digestions and bodies equal to and better than mine, and which ended there before my eyes in the shambles at the bottom of the Social Pit.
And as I listened my brain began to work. The woman of the streets and the man of the gutter drew very close to me. I saw the picture of the Social Pit as vividly as though it were a concrete thing, and at the bottom of the Pit I saw them, myself above them, not far, and hanging on to the slippery wall by main strength and sweat. And I confess a terror seized me. What when my strength failed? when I should be unable to work shoulder to shoulder with the strong men who were as yet babes unborn? And there and then I swore a great oath. It ran something like this: All my days I have worked hard with my body, and according to the number of days I have worked, by just that much am I nearer the bottom of the Pit. I shall climb out of the Pit, but not by the muscles of my body shall I climb out. I shall do no more hard work, and may God strike me dead if I do another day's hard work with my body more than I absolutely have to do. And I have been busy ever since running away from hard work.
Incidentally, while tramping some ten thousand miles through the United States and Canada, I strayed into Niagara Falls, was nabbed by a fee-hunting constable, denied the right to plead guilty or not guilty, sentenced out of hand to thirty days' imprisonment for having no fixed abode and no visible means of support, handcuffed and chained to a bunch of men similarly circumstanced, carted down country to Buffalo, registered at the Erie County Penitentiary, had my head clipped and my budding mustache shaved, was dressed in convict stripes, compulsorily vaccinated by a medical student who practised on such as we, made to march the lock-step, and put to work under the eyes of guards armed with Winchester rifles—all for adventuring in blond-beastly fashion. Concerning further details deponent sayeth not, though he may hint that some of his plethoric national patriotism simmered down and leaked out of the bottom of his soul somewhere—at least, since that experience he finds that he cares more for men and women and little children than for imaginary geographical lines.

To return to my conversion. I think it is apparent that my rampant individualism was pretty effectively hammered out of me, and something else as effectively hammered in. But, just as I had been an individualist without knowing it, I was now a Socialist without knowing it, withal, an unscientific one. I had been reborn, but not renamed, and I was running around to find out what manner of thing I was. I ran back to California and opened the books. I do not remember which ones I opened first. It is an unimportant detail anyway. I was already It, whatever It was, and by aid of the books I discovered that It was a Socialist. Since that day I have opened many books, but no economic argument, no lucid demonstration of the logic and inevitableness of Socialism affects me as profoundly and convincingly as I was affected on the day when I first saw the walls of the Social Pit rise around me and felt myself slipping down, down, into the shambles at the bottom.

Paul Hunt (1966)

All my adult life has been spent in institutions amongst people who, Ain myself, have severe and often progressive physical disabilities. We are paralysed and deformed, most of us in wheelchairs, either as the result of accident or of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and polio. So naturally this personal experience forms a background to the views on disability that follow.
I do not mean to exclude altogether the large number of people who today are able to lead a more or less normal life in the community; those with relatively light disabilities, or with such handicaps as defects in sight, speech or hearing, epilepsy, obesity, heart disease, and so on. I hope that much of what I say will be relevant to this latter group since they have many problems in common with us.
But apart from the obvious value of writing from my own direct knowledge, it is also true that the situation of ‘the young chronic sick’ (as we are officially and rather unpleasantly termed) highlights, or rather goes to the depths of, the question of disablement. Our ‘tragedy’ may be only the tragedy of all sickness, pain and suffering carried to extremes. But disabilities like ours, which often prohibit any attempt at normal living in society, almost force one to consider the basic issues, not only of coping with a special handicap, but of life itself.
Being cheerful and keeping going is scarcely good enough when one has an illness that will end in an early death, when one is wasting away like some Belsen victim, maybe incontinent, dependent on others for daily needs, probably denied marriage and a family and forced to live out one’s time in an institution. In these circumstances the most acute questions arise and the most radical ‘answers’ are called for.
I am not suggesting that all of us with such devastating handicaps probe deeply into the meaning of life, nor that we automatically gain great wisdom or sanctity. We have our defences like anyone else. But it does seem that our situation tends to make us ask questions that few people ask in the ordinary world. And it also means that to some extent we are set apart from, or rather have a special position within, the everyday society that most people take it for granted they belong to.
I want to look at this special situation largely in terms of our relations with others, our place in society. This is essentially related to the personal aspect of coping with disablement, which I hope it will at the same time illumine, since the problem of disability lies not only in the impairment of function and its effects on us individually, but also, more importantly, in the area of our relationship with ‘normal’ people. If everyone were disabled as we are, there would be no special situation to consider.
This focus on the ways in which we are set apart from the ordinary does not mean that I see us as really separated from society. In fact the reverse assumption underlies everything I write. We are society, as much as anybody, and cannot be considered in isolation from it.
I am aware of the danger of concentrating on the ways in which disability makes us like each other and unlike the normal, and thus being trapped into the common fault of viewing people in terms of one characteristic to the exclusion of all others. Disabled people suffer enough from that kind of thing already. But whatever the differences between us, we do have certain sets of experiences in common. In dealing with this aspect of our lives I have tried not to forget two others — our uniqueness as persons and the human nature we share with the rest of mankind.
I think the distinguishing mark of disabled people’s special position is that they tend to ‘challenge’ in their relations with ordinary society. This challenge takes five main forms: as unfortunate, useless, different, oppressed and sick. All these are only facets of one situation, but here it seems worth taking each in turn.
The first way in which we challenge others is by being unfortunate. Severely disabled people are generally considered to have been unlucky, to be deprived and poor, to lead cramped lives. We do not enjoy many of the ‘goods’ that people in our society are accustomed to. The opportunity for marriage and having children, authority at home and at work, the chance to earn money, independence and freedom of movement, a house and a car! — these things, and plenty more, may be denied us.
Underprivileged as we are in this sense, one point seems to be clear. If the worth of human beings depends on a high social status, on the possession of wealth, on a position as parent, husband or wife — if such things are all-important — then those of us who have lost or never had them are indeed unfortunate. Our lives must be tragically upset and marred for ever, we must be only half alive, only half human. And it is a fact that most of us, whatever our explicit views, tend to act as though such ‘goods’ are essential to a fully human existence. Their possession is seen as the key to entry into a promised land of civilized living.
But set over against this common sense attitude is another fact, a strange one. In my experience even the most severely disabled people retain an ineradicable conviction that they are still fully human in all that is ultimately necessary. Obviously each person can deny this, and act accordingly. Yet even when he is most depressed, even when he says he would be better off dead, the underlying sense of his own worth remains.
This basic feeling for the value of the person as such becomes fully operational, as it were, when those with severe disabilities live full and happy lives in defiance of the usual expectations. An increasing number of people do seem to overcome their misfortunes like this, and it is they who present the most effective challenge to society.
When confronted with someone who is evidently coping with tragic circumstances, able-bodied people tend to deny the reality of the adjustment. The disabled person is simply making the best of a bad job, putting a good face on it. There may be some truth in this. But when it becomes obvious that there is also a genuine happiness, another defensive attitude is taken up. The ‘unfortunate’ person is assumed to have wonderful and exceptional courage (although underneath this overt canonization there is usually a degree of irritation and hostility which comes to light at moments of stress). This devalues other disabled people by implication, and leaves the fit person still with his original view that disablement is really utterly tragic.
Such reactions appear to be caused by the need to safeguard a particular scale of values, where someone’s sense of security depends on this being maintained. He almost wants the disabled person to suffer, as a confirmation that the values denied him are still worthy and important and good. If he shows no obvious sign of suffering, then he must challenge people whose own worth seems to them to be bound up with their more fortunate position in life.
So if those of us who are disabled live as fully as we can, while being completely conscious of the tragedy of our situation — this is the possibility when one has an alert mind — then somehow we can communicate to others an awareness that the value of the human person transcends his social status, attributes and possessions or his lack of them. This applies however much we recognize these ‘accidents’ as important, and however much we regard the ‘goods’ I have mentioned as the normal elements in a full life. What we oppose is only the assumption that makes them absolutely indispensable for a completely human existence.
Perhaps we can help prepare people for the almost certain day when they themselves lose, at least in old age, some of the advantages that are so highly valued. But anyway, those who implicitly believe that a man’s worth depends on his good fortune must be building their lives on rather inadequate foundations, and they will perhaps find contact with us a thought-provoking experience.
A second aspect of our special position in society is that we are often useless, unable to contribute to the economic good of the community. As such, again we cannot help posing questions about values, about what a person is, what he is for, about whether work in the everyday sense of the word is the most important or the only contribution anyone can make to society.
There is no doubt that we do put great stress on the individual’s economic contribution. Most people are wrapped up in a workaday, utilitarian world, and regard anything not visibly productive as expendable.
Contemplations, philosophy, wisdom, the liberal arts, get short shrift from the average man. Those who cannot work, such as the sick, aged or unemployed, are subject to a tremendous pressure to feel useless, or at least of less value than the breadwinner.
I am not indicting some abstract Society for getting its priorities wrong; each of us shares responsibility for the prevailing attitudes. Also Iam far from saying that work, in the sense of contributing to the wealth of the community, is unimportant. Of course willingness to pull one’s weight is an essential part of a healthy and balanced outlook on life and other people.
But I am concerned that we should not elevate the idea of work in our minds to the point where it dominates values that ought to transcend it. It is important not to do this, if only because it causes the most acute suffering in those of us who cannot help being parasites on the economic body.
Obviously we who are disabled are deeply affected by the assumptions of our uselessness that surround us. But it is vital that we should not accept this devaluation of ourselves, yearning only to be able to earn our livings and thus prove our worth. We do not have to prove anything.
If we have a basic willingness to contribute to the community, yet cannot do an ordinary job, we may certainly contribute in less obvious ways; even, and perhaps especially, if these seem insignificant beside the ‘real world of work’. Our freedom from the competitive trappings that accompany work in our society may give us the opportunity to demonstrate its essential elements. Also we can act as a symbol for the pre-eminent claims of non-utilitarian values, a visible challenge to anyone who treats his job as a final end in itself. And we do of course afford people the chance to be generous in support of the needy, thus enabling them to give practical expression to their desire to go beyond the acquisitive instinct.
At the ultimate point we may only be able to suffer, to be passive through complete physical inability. Just here we have a special insight to offer, because our position gives us an extra experience of life in the passive aspect that is one half of the human reality. Those who lead active lives are perhaps especially inclined to ignore man’s need to accept passivity in relation to so many forces beyond his control. They may need reminding sometimes of our finiteness, our feminine side in the hands of fate or providence. We are well placed to do this job at least.
The next challenging characteristic of the disabled is that we are different, abnormal, marked out as members of a minority group. Normality is so often put forward as che goal for people with special handicaps, that we have come to accept its desirability as a dogma. But even if one takes a common sense meaning for the word ~ being like most people in our society — it is doubtful if this is what we should really fix our sights on. For one thing it is impossible of achievement, at certain levels anyway. Obviously we cannot be physically normal, are doomed to be deviants in this sense at least. Also we must be affected psychologically by our disabilities, and to some extent be moulded into a distinct class by our experiences.
But more important, what kind of goal is this elusive normality? If it does mean simply trying to be like the majority, then it is hardly a good enough ideal at which to aim. Whether they are physically handicapped or not, people need something more than this to work towards if they are to contribute their best to society and grow to maturity.
Of course there is a certain value in our trying to keep up with ordinary society, and relate to it; but it is essential to define the sense in which this is a good thing. Once more I am not rejecting in a sour-grapes spirit the many excellent normal goals that may be denied us — marrying, earning one’s living, and so on. What I am rejecting is society’s tendency to set up rigid standards of what is right and proper, to force the individual into a mould.
Our constant experience of this pressure towards unthinking conformity in some way relates us to other obvious deviants and outcasts like the Jew in a gentile world, a Negro in a white world, homosexuals, the mentally handicapped; and also to more voluntary rebels in every sphere — artists, philosophers, prophets, who are essentially subversive elements in society. This is another area where disabled people can play an important role.
Those we meet cannot fail to notice our disablement even if they turn away quickly and avoid thinking about us afterwards. An impaired and deformed body is a ‘difference’ that hits everyone hard at first. Inevitably it produces an instinctive revulsion, has a disturbing effect. Our own first reaction to this is to want to hide ourselves in the crowd, to attempt to buy acceptance on any terms, to agree uncritically with whatever is the done thing. Feeling excessively self-conscious we would like to bury ourselves in society away from the stares of the curious, and even the special consideration of the kindly, both of which serve to emphasize our difference from the majority.
But this very natural impulse has to be resisted. We must try to help people accept the fact of our unavoidable difference from them — which implies that we are attempting to integrate it within ourselves too. However, this does not mean just creating a comfortable atmosphere of acceptance around ourselves, building up a circle of able-bodied friends who treat us right, and trying to leave it at that. It is imperative that the effort should be followed through to the point where we, and those we come into contact with, understand that it is not just a case of our minds compensating for our disabilities, or something like that.
We can witness to the truth that a person’s dignity does not rest even in his consciousness, and certainly that it does not rest in his beauty, age, intelligence or colour. Those of us with unimpaired minds but severely disabled bodies, have a unique opportunity to show other people not only that our big difference from them does not lessen our worth, but also that no difference between men, however real, unpleasant and disturbing, does away with their right to be treated as fully human.
We face more obviously than most the universal problem of coming to terms with the fact of man’s individuality and loneliness. If we begin to accept our own special peculiarity, we shall be in a position to help others accept even their own difference from everyone else. These two acceptances are bound up together. People’s shocked reactions to the obvious deviant often reflect their own deepest fears and difficulties, their failure to accept themselves as they really are, and the other person simply as ‘other’.
The disabled person’s ‘strangeness’ can manifest and symbolize all differences between human beings. In his relations with more nearly normal people he may become a medium for reconciling them to the fact of these differences, and demonstrate their relative unimportance compared to what we have in common.
The fourth challenging aspect of our situation follows inevitably from our being different and having minority status. Disabled people often meet prejudice, which expresses itself in discrimination and even oppression. Sometimes it seems to us that we just can’t win. Whatever we do, whether good or bad, people put it down to our being disabled. Meeting this kind of attitude constantly can be depressing and infinitely wearing. You may produce the most logical and persuasive arguments only to have them dismissed, without even the compliment of counter-argument, as products of your disability. The frustrating thing is that there is no appeal against this. If you point out what is happening you are assured it isn’t, that you are imagining a prejudice which does not exist. And immediately you know you are branded again as being unrealistic and impossibly subjective. So many people take it for granted that what you say can be explained by a crude theory of compensation, and therefore is of no account or self-evidently false. And they tell themselves that you can’t really help having these ideas, poor thing.
One rather doubtful pleasure is to discover that this ‘poor thing’ attitude does not survive a determined rejection of the able-bodied person’s assumption of inherent superiority. He admits equality as a theory, but when you acz as though you are equal then the crucial test comes. Most people are good-willed liberals towards us up to this point, but not all of them survive close contact with disability without showing some less attractive traits.
Of course it is not only the ‘fit’? who are like this. I know I have instinctive prejudices against lots of people; against the able-bodied to start with. It is a basic human characteristic to fear and put up barriers against those who are different from ourselves. Without for a moment justifying any of its manifestations, it seems to me just as ‘natural’ to be prejudiced against someone with a defective body (or mind) as it is to have difficulty in accepting the members of another racial group.
Maybe it is invidious to compare our situation with that of racial minorities in any way. The injustice and brutality suffered by so many because of racial tension makes our troubles as disabled people look very small. But I think there is a connection somewhere, since all prejudice springs from the same roots. And there stirs in me a little of the same anger as the Negro writer James Baldwin reveals in The Fire Next Time when I remember the countless times I have seen disabled people hurt, treated as less than people, told what to do and how to behave by those whose only claim to do this came from prejudice and their power over them.
In the hospitals and Homes I have lived in one rarely sees any physical cruelty. But I have experienced enough of other kinds of subtly corrupting behaviour. There are administrators and matrons who have had people removed on slight pretexts, who try to break up ordinary friendships if they don’t approve of them. There are the staff who bully those who cannot complain, who dictate what clothes people should wear, who switch the television off in the middle of a programme, and will take away ‘privileges’ (like getting up for the day) when they choose. Then there are the visitors who automatically assume an authority over us and interfere without regard for our wishes.
Admittedly some of these examples are trivial, and I have not mentioned all the excellent people who make any sort of life possible for us. But still I think it is true that we meet fundamentally the same attitude which discriminates against anyone different and shades off into oppression under the right — or rather wrong — conditions.
In the wider community the similarity is even clearer. Employers turn away qualified and competent workers simply because they are disabled. Restaurants and pubs give transparent excuses for refusing our custom. Landladies reject disabled lodgers. Parents and relations fight the marriage of a cripple into their family — perhaps with more reason than with a black African, but with many of the same arguments. And it’s not hard to see the analogy between a racial ghetto and the institutions where disabled people are put away and given enough care to salve society’s conscience.
Of course there are vast differences between our situation and that of many other ‘downtrodden’ people. One of these is that we are not a potential threat to lives and property. For this reason alone we can be hopeful that at least our freedom from open discrimination’ can be achieved even though we shall never have sufficient power in the community to ensure this. It also gives us a good chance of avoiding the ever-present danger for those who are oppressed — that they will pay homage to the same god of power that is harming their oppressors.
It is true that we still have to solve the problem of means and ends; of whether, or rather in what way, we should oppose evil. But perhaps precisely because violence and power-seeking are not really practical possibilities for us, we are well placed to consider other ways of achieving freedom from injustice. However, we should be careful that our weakness here does not become an excuse for a sterile resignation.
One reason why we must resist prejudice, injustice, oppression, is that they not only tend to diminish us, but far more to diminish our oppressors. If you try to care about people you cannot be indifferent to what is happening to those who treat you badly, and you have to oppose them. If this opposition is to be by means of patience and long-suffering, then they must be directed at the abolition of evil or they are just forms of masochism.
In this section I have not only been drawing an analogy between our position in society and that of racial minorities, but also pointing the connection between all the manifestations of prejudice and discrimination. This connection means that although we cannot directly assist the American Negro, for instance, in his resistance to oppression, in one way we can help everyone who suffers injustice.
We do this above all by treating properly those we meet. There are always people we feel superior to or resent — the mentally ill, the aged, children, those who patronize us or hurt us. If we do not try to treat all these as fully human beings, then it is certain we would not be able to help the Negro or anyone else in a similar predicament. Here, as in so many instances, it is true that: “What we do is a symbol of what we would do. Not only can we do no more than to let an act substitute for a more splendid act, but no one can do more. This is the reconciliation.”
The last aspect of our challenge to society as disabled people is that we are sick, suffering, diseased, in pain. For the able-bodied, normal world we are representatives of many of the things they most fear -tragedy, loss, dark and the unknown. Involuntarily we walk — or more often sit — in the valley of the shadow of death. Contact with us throws up in people’s faces the fact of sickness and death in the world. No one likes to think of such things, which in themselves are an affront to all our aspirations and hopes. A deformed and paralysed body attacks everyone’s sense of well-being and invincibility. People do not want to acknowledge what disability affirms — that life is tragic and we shall all soon be dead.‘ So they are inclined to avoid those who are sick or old, shying from the disturbing reminders of unwelcome reality.
Here I would suggest that our role in society can be likened to that of the satirist in some respects. Maybe we have to remind people of a side of life they would sooner forget. We do this primarily by what we are. But we can intensify it and make it more productive if we are fully conscious of the tragedy of our situation, yet show by our lives that we believe this is not the final tragedy.
Closely involved with death and dark in the unconscious and subconscious, though really distinct, is the idea of evil. An almost automatic linkage is made not only between a sick body and a sick mind, but also undoubtedly between an evil body and an evil mind, a warped personality. There is a definite relation between the concepts of health and holiness. So many of the words used about health are moral ones — we talk of a good or bad leg, of being fit and unfit, of walking properly, of perfect physique. And disabled people find that the common assumption of good health as a natural thing often comes over to us as an ‘ought’, carries with it undertones of a moral failure on our part. ‘If only you had enough will-power ... ’ is the modern-dress version of the idea that we are possessed by an evil spirit.
Then there are traces of a desire to externalize evil, to find a scapegoat, in attitudes to the sick. Sometimes people are evidently trying to reassure themselves that they are ‘saved’, justified, in a state of grace. I do not mean just the feeling of gaining merit from charitable works, but rather a satisfaction got from their ‘good’ selves juxtaposed with the ‘unclean’, the untouchables, who provide them with an assurance that they are all right, on the right side.
No doubt this process works the other way too. Our experience of subjection as sick people may give us a sense of being holy and predestined in contrast to our condescending, prejudiced fellow men. But such attitudes, whether in ourselves or others, have to be constantly resisted and rooted out. They are simply products of our own fears and weaknesses, and any temporary security they give is false and dangerous.
I have dealt briefly with five interrelated aspects of disabled people’s position as a challenge to some of the common values of society: as unfortunate, useless, different, oppressed and sick. A paradoxical law runs through the whole of the situation I have been describing. It is that only along the line of maximum resistance to diminishment can we arrive at the required point for a real acceptance of what is unalterable. We have first to acknowledge the value of the good things of life — of prosperity, usefulness, normality, integration with society, good health — and be fully extended in the search for fulfilment in ordinary human terms, before we can begin to achieve a fruitful resignation.
Nowadays many disabled people will have nothing to do with resignation as it used to be understood. Thriving in a climate of increasing public tolerance and kindness, and on a diet of pensions and welfare, we are becoming presumptuous. Now we reject any view of ourselves as being lucky to be allowed to live. We reject too all the myths and superstitions that have surrounded us in the past.
We are challenging society to take account of us, to listen to what we have to say, to acknowledge us as an integral part of society itself. We do not want ourselves, or anyone else, treated as second-class citizens and put away out of sight and mind. Many of us are just beginning to refuse to be put away, to insist that we are part of life too. We are saying that being deformed and paralysed, blind or deaf — or old or mentally sick for that matter — is not a crime or in any meaningful sense of the words a divine punishment. Illness and impairment are facts of existence, diminishment and death are there to be thought about and must be taken account of in any realistic view of the world. We are perhaps also saying that society is itself sick if it can’t face our sickness, if it does not Overcome its natural fear and dislike of unpleasantness as manifested by disability.
We are asking of people something that lies a lot deeper than almsgiving. We want an extension of the impulse that inspires this, so that it becomes a gift of self rather than the dispensing of bounty (material and other kinds) from above. To love and respect, treat as equals, people as obviously ‘inferior’ as we are, requires real humility and generosity. I believe that our demand to be treated like this is based on a truth about human beings which everyone needs to recognize — which is why we have a particularly important function here. But there is also no doubt that acquiring and maintaining such an attitude runs contrary to some of people’s most deep seated impulses and prejudices.
The quality of the relationship the community has with its least fortunate members is a measure of its own health. The articulate person with a severe disability may to some extent represent and speak on behalf of all those who perhaps cannot interpret their predicament, or protest for themselves — the weak, sick, poor and aged throughout the world. They too are rejects from ordinary life, and are subject to the same experience of devaluation by society.
This linkage with other ‘unfortunates’, with the shadow side of life, is not always easy to accept. For the disabled person with a fair intelligence or other gifts, perhaps the greatest temptation is to try to use them just to escape from his disabledness, to buy himself a place in the sun, a share in the illusory normal world where all is light and pleasure and happiness. Naturally we want to get away from and forget the sickness, depression, pain, loneliness and poverty of which we see probably more than our share. But if we deny our special relation to the dark in this way, we shall have ceased to recognize our most important asset as disabled people in society — the uncomfortable, subversive position from which we act as a living reproach to any scale of values that puts attributes or possessions before the person.

Chapter 12 in Hunt, P. (ed.) 1966: Stigma: The Experience of Disability, London: Geoffrey Chapman

Chapter 1 in Shakespeare, Tom 1988: Disability Reader, The; 978-0826453600

You can highlight and read text with Option+Esc on macOS by default ( > System Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content > Speak selection) but when I find it's finnicky to select the text in the browser, or I want to write it to a file to listen to later, this is my amateur solution.


  1. Python3 brew install python3
  2. Newspaper3k for python3 pip3 install newspaper3k
  3. 300 – 500 MB free for Siri voice download

Download Siri voice model

  1.  > System Settings > Accessibility > Spoken Content

The voice you select here will be the default voice for the say command.

  1. Set voice to Siri. If not already downloaded, select the System voice option and go to Manage Voices and scroll to English (US) – Siri. I use Voice 1, it's the largest and I think most natural-sounding.

Use python and Newspaper3k to extract article contents

Here's my to extract the contents to stdout. It uses sys argv so the syntax would be:

python3 <url>

Newspaper3k can also get the title, author, and other info.

from newspaper import Article
import sys

url = (sys.argv[1])
article = Article(url)


Pass to say command

Simple shell script where the full syntax would be:

sh <url>

body=$(/opt/homebrew/bin/python3 $1)

echo $body | say -r 250 --progress
  • -r controls the rate of speech. 250 is pretty fast.
  • —progress shows a simple time counter and write speed.

Write to a file instead of reading aloud

body=$(/opt/homebrew/bin/python3 $1)

echo $body | say -r 250 --progress -o <title>.aiff

You could simply replace print(article.text) with print(article.title) in another .py to pass the title to a filename. Keep going with all the features of Newspaper and you could add way more metadata.