Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cousins

In his little book The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, the late, great Ludwig von Mises makes note of the most important deleterious influences in a free society. The one I have in mind this morning, Von Mises calls "the cousins." You'll discover why in just a moment.

It's noteworthy how many persons, in various walks of life, "make it" to some degree without shedding their envy and resentment of others who "made it" before them, or to greater heights. The esteemed Sarah Hoyt makes note of a poignant case in her reflections on the recently concluded RavenCon:

By the time I was at the con of course, I knew it wouldn’t be okay. Let’s just say there was quite a bit of glitter in the air that didn’t come off Kate’s outfit. Of course with a theme like Women in Science Fiction what else could we think....

I mean, a question for the audience, how many of you have EVER had trouble finding an sf/f book written by/featuring women? None, right? Because since the eighties, I’ve been going up and down bookshelves muttering about how women shouldn’t be allowed to write....

We’ll also gloss over the audience member who thought she was being so … thoughtful… in telling us that Robert A. Heinlein couldn’t write women. I was very tired which can do one of two things to the berserker. Right then because I’d been prepared for clever stupidity, the berserker was “dulled” and I didn’t leap across the room screaming “Yeah, he was so terrible, he’s the one who broke SF out of the ghetto and it took you clever boys and girls about fifty years to chase off all the normal reading people and lock us back in as a place for weirdos and people who think the world is NOT full of binary gender, and other genius insights.”

This is, of course, part and parcel of ongoing tumult within the Science Fiction Writers of America. For those Gentle Readers unfamiliar with that particular low-rent district in the arts -- no, I'm not a member and will never be one -- SFWA has recently become a battlefield. On one side are the gender-war feminists, who simply cannot abide opinions that diverge from their own, and who whine more or less continuously about how evil men are and how they've been excluded from the SF and fantasy fields for no reason but chauvinism, and who have determined that SFWA must be purged of all such "phallocentrism" and made safe for the Emergent Vaginocracy. On the other side are writers who write SF and/or fantasy for their own sake, who write it without regard for any political agenda, and who are mostly puzzled by the pogrom being waged against them and theirs.

Sarah's observation about the Vaginocrats' lack of respect for those who made SF a respected field -- nearly all of them men -- pierces to the heart of the Cousins Plague. For not one of those exercised lady writers -- I'm going to use that term because it offends them -- has produced anything to compare with what Heinlein and his contemporaries could turn out on their worst days. Their envy gives rise to their mediocrity; their grim determination to put sexual politics front-and-center perpetuates it.

Cousins can be like that. In Von Mises's formulation, the "cousins" are the not-quite-immediate relatives of highly successful men. Such persons often get to enjoy some or all of the pleasures and opportunities attendant upon great wealth, without having contributed to its generation. However, they cannot help but be aware that those benefits are theirs by reason of the largesse of the truly successful owner; they certainly can't claim them by right. The sense of being the recipients of benefits they have not earned, however gently and benevolently disbursed, will not leave them. That so many should come to resent their benefactors is hardly surprising; that a great fraction of those should rail against the "system" that allowed Uncle John to amass his fortune is sadly ironic, though no less destructive for that.

(If you're imagining Philip Rearden denigrating older brother Hank, or muttering "limousine liberals," you're not alone.)

It should be clear that their motivation is the key to dealing with "cousins." The sight of genuine accomplishment, coupled to their awareness of their far lesser stature, grates on them. And like envy-ridden persons everywhere and everywhen, they react by trying to tear down that which they could never equal.

"Cousins" aren't always the genetic or marital relatives of that which they envy. Sometimes they're "hangers-on," whose proximity to the great arises from a social or occupational connection:

  • Lesser practitioners in any field;
  • Critics in any of the arts;
  • Political commentators;
  • Regulatory bureaucrats.

The Cousins Plague can be just as virulent in such persons as in the extended families of great men of business and commerce. Indeed, it's sometimes worse, as anyone familiar with the writings of Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd will recognize at once.

"Cousins" demand that we pander to their sensitivities and presumptions. Many attempt to cast themselves as victims or spokesmen for victims, as do black racialist rabble-rousers and the aspiring Vaginocrats of SFWA. Some, more aware of their privileged status, merely cast cleverly worded aspersions on their targets. And some merely simmer silently in their own juices, until one day they muster their weapons and head off to Columbine High or the Casas Adobes Safeway.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: there's a reason envy is the only emotion forbidden by the Ten Commandments. With the militantly envious multiplying among us like cockroaches in a dirty bodega, anyone of even modest accomplishments can become a target. Worst of all, an able man benevolently disposed toward those around him can elicit the hostility of his "cousins" without even realizing that he's done so.

Food for thought.

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