The Young King, Continued

Continuation from The Young King: The Courtiers Reaction

The young king leaves his chambers and finds the nobles celebrating.  They are unhappy with his dress of a commoner.  He rides out into the streets, and the people mock him.  One man tells him “Sir, knowest thou not that out of the luxury of the rich cometh the life of the poor?  By your pomp we are nurtured, and your vices give us bread. To toil for a hard master is bitter, but to have no master to toil for is more bitter still.  Thinkest thou that the ravens will feed us?  And what care hast thou for these things?  Wilt thou say to the buyer, ‘Thou shalt buy for so much’ and to the seller, ‘Thou shalt sell at this price’?  I trow not….” The young king asked “Are not the rich and poor brothers?”  The man answered yes and the rich brother is Cain.

Here we see the acceptance of the existing social order by the masses spoken by the one man.  They don’t like it, but they see no other way.  They see the rich as evil as Cain.  Then there is the discussion of prices.  They think it is ridiculous that a king should set prices.  Which, it is perfectly ridiculous, and for a recent example of this, look no further than Venezuela.  Wilde is a writer, not an economist, so I don’t know that he would be aware of the ridiculousness of price controls.  It is hard for me to grasp what he is trying to say here, then.  Why this discussion?  Does Wilde think a King can command an economy?

From there the young king goes on to the Cathedral where his coronation ceremony is to take place.  The Bishop follows suit of everyone else he has encountered.  He wants the young king to go back to the palace and put on the finery that was made for this day.  The young king asked, “Shall Joy wear what Grief has fashioned?”  Then the boy relayed his dreams to the bishop.  The bishop acknowledges the evils of the world we live in, but asked the young king, “Canst thou make these things not to be?… Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art?”   The bishop again requests that the king return to the castle for all the luxurious items meant for his coronation ceremony.  He tells the young king, “The burden of this world is too great for one man to bear, and the world’s sorrow too heavy for one heart to suffer.”

The bishop seems to echo the words of the man on the street, that a king cannot change the nature of the world.  He makes the further point that God, the Creator, is certainly wiser than the young king.  Now you can’t blame the young king for being upset at the fate that befell those who prepared his finery for the coronation.  That seems as it should be.  But what is Wilde getting at here with so much acceptance of the existing order of things, by the couriers, the people, the bishop?  Yet the young king remains distressed by it, he rejects it, he wants no part of it.

From there, the nobles show up with murder on their mind because they now think him unworthy to be king.  The boy stands before the image of Christ and prayed, then rose, looking about sadly.  Then suddenly, sunlight streamed upon him from a window and he was clothed in stunning finery.  The Glory of God filled the place, and the music sounded.  The bishop proclaimed, “A greater than I hath crowned thee,”  All kneeled before the young king, swords sheathed, they did him homage.  The young king returned to the palace, but no one would look upon his face as it was like the face of the angel.

I’m pretty sure the answer I’m looking for is in the end, but I don’t understand it.  I get that God crowns the young king as the rightful ruler, and apparently because the young king cares about the fate of men.  However, we are still left with the bishop’s words, in particular.  I’ll quote them again. “The burden of this world is too great for one man to bear, and the world’s sorrow too heavy for one heart to suffer.”  The king has just been crowned by God.  Is this another instance where we are to recognize Christ in a character?  Maybe that is it.  Maybe I don’t get it because the economic criticism may have been fitting for the 19th century, but as we can see after capitalism hit full stride, that the lives of those living in developed nations was so vastly improved that our poor do not suffer from the same conditions that were prevalent in the early days.  Maybe I can’t get it because I am unable to not be anachronistic.

ETA:  I spent all this time reading, writing and thinking about Oscar Wilde’s story and it didn’t occur to me to google him until just now.  The man is a socialist that favors the abolition of private property.  The thinking that I found incomprehensible is explained in his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism:

Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no class is ever really conscious of its own suffering.  They have to be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve them.

Is this not typical of socialist thinking, that other men are too ignorant to understand their own lives?  The history of man has been one of poverty and suffering.  Weaved into that suffering is love, joy, and hope.  No mud, no lotus.

ETA (again)  My heart is a little bit broken that this author, whose work I have been enjoying so much, promulgates such incoherent and unrealistic ideas.

Know Your Enemy

Rage Against the Machine has recently captured by imagination. I get this band is leftist.  Libertarians and leftist of this variety share some concerns, some of the same outrages.   I’m going to write about some of the lyrics from their song Know Your Enemy.


What? The land of the free?
Whoever told you that is your enemy?

My reaction to this  was “heck yeah”. Ok, so my original word was a lot stronger than heck.  Then I read.  I read what the guitarist Tom Morello said.  “America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Seriously, that kind of thing blows me away.  It is like people can’t actually observe the world in front of them. If it weren’t for capitalism and the division of labor, we would all be living at subsistence levels threatened regularly with starvation.  Life is full of trade-offs.  People like me sell their labor and in return we are given a paycheck to spend on whatever it is we desire.  I’m not concerned too much about what is produced, other than I have a personal dedication to doing quality work.  What I care about is that I get the money to buy the things I need.  I also wonder what is wrong with taking a subservient role.  I’ve got a good deal of control in other aspects of my life, it simply doesn’t bother me that I have to do as my boss asks.  Most bosses I have had don’t ask me to do things with which I have a problem.  I know what I contracted to do, and I’m fine with doing it, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place.  Oh I know, I’m just lucky.  Everyone else is stuck working for miserable bosses that force them to do miserable things (sarcasm).

Another part of the lyrics:

Come on!
Yes I know my enemies
They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission
Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite
All of which are American dreams

On the face of it, these seem like some pretty great criticisms.  I don’t know about them being American dreams, more like American reality.  The problem is that after reading what is thought about working for wages, I realize that we probably have entirely different interpretations of what we would mean by these words.  Here is my version:

Compromise – The way the two-party system continually compromise and we end up with more and more governmental control.

Conformity, Assimilation – The way the public schools churn out worker bees instead of entrepreneurs.  The way kids that don’t fit the mold are drugged in an effort to get them into the mold.

Submission – TSA, Drug War, Regulation

Brutality – Police with too many laws to enforce.  No knock raids.  Wars of aggression.  Preemptive war.

Ignorance – Schools again, putting forth a one sided narrative authored by the government.  Complete ignorance on economics by most of the nation.

Hypocrisy – Politicians on both side, doing the same things while pretending they are different.

Elite – We might agree on this one.  The rich who exercise more control over the government than the rest of the citizens.  Our remedy would differ, I am sure.

My take away from this is that no wonder it is hard to have effective dialogues in this country when the same words mean entirely different things to different people.  Another takeaway is that it is also difficult when we can see some of the same problems and have such radically different ideas on the causes and the solutions.




The Young King: The Courtiers Reaction

My kids and I have been enjoying Stories for Children, a book with tales authored by Oscar Wilde.  The stories make you think, and we have discussed various aspects of them.  The last story from the book was titled The Young King.

The Young King is a criticism of the existing social order where the poor toil and suffer while the rich live in luxury.  I might as well admit that I didn’t fully understand the ending, so I’m just going to write about the parts of the story that I found intriguing.  I will try not to be anachronistic, but I’m not going to promise it.

The young king is a 16 year old boy that inherits the throne on the death of his grandfather.  He had not grown up in the palace because he had been placed in the care of peasants, instead.  The king’s daughter had secretly married a man who was not royal material and the boy was the product of this marriage.  The king, apparently, thought such stock to be unworthy of the throne and sent the baby away.  His mother and her lover were executed for their deeds.    On the kings deathbed, the king has no other heir, and requests this boy be brought to the palace and made king once he is gone.  That the boy was raised as a commoner is important to the story.

At first the boy is astonished with all the riches, and gladly takes command of ordering this or that luxury for his own pleasure.  On the night before his coronation ceremony, he has several dreams.

His first dream was of visiting a weaver who was gaunt and exhausted with hunger, and children, that were also on the verge of starvation, worked helping the weaver.  The young king doesn’t comprehend this mans struggles when he is not a slave.  The weaver tells him that in war the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor, and that this is so with all the poor. The king asked about the robe he is weaving, and the weaver replied it was for the young King.  With that the young king is distressed and awakes from his dream.

The young king falls back to sleep, and this time dreams of the diver that collected the pearls for the sceptre for his coronation ceremony.  The diver ends up dying from being underwater too long, and the captain of the boat and his men are unconcerned with his death, throwing his dead body overboard.  This dream, too, distressed the young king.

His last dream is of men mining for rubies, the jewels for his crown to be worn at the coronation.  These men all meet the fate of death, and the young king is further distressed.

He awakes and shuns his luxurious clothes for the battered old clothing he had arrived at the palace in.  He relays to his courtiers that he will not use the fine things that have been created for his coronation because the robe was woven “on the loom of Sorrow”, that “There is Blood in the heart of the ruby, and Death in the heart of the pearl.”  He relayed his dreams to them.

This is where I found the story to get most interesting.  The courtiers thought him mad.  They asked, “What have we to do with the lives of those who toil for us?  Shall a man not eat bread till he has seen the sower?”  One tells the king that he must dress in these items for how else will the people know he is their king.  The young king accepts, sadly, that the people may not know him as king if he is not dressed the part, but he will not wear the items that have been established for him.

The questions are interesting to me.  The market does not permit the purchaser great understanding of what the laborers endured to bring the products to market.  It is impractical that we should have that information at any kind of detail.  This is a criticism that I have regularly seen leveled at free markets.  There is no way that people can make purchases based on how we think people should be treated, because there is no way for us to have perfect knowledge.

What then?  Is the market immoral?  Is it immoral for us to reap the rewards of our purchases not knowing the suffering involved in bringing any item to market?  Am I, a free market proponent, an agent of suffering, because I am aware that people have suffered greatly at the treatment of the early capitalists or in developing nations as I write?

What are we to make then of any other situation where any of us might see that individuals suffer as a result of poor working conditions, extremely long hours at subsistence pay?  As a whole, we don’t want to see our fellow man suffer.  It is at least uncomfortable, if not painful, to know that while we live in abundance through the luck of being born in the US, that people in others countries toil long hours with little to show for it.  Should we then stop purchasing the goods that provide their meager livlihood?

That is not the answer.  Where would these people be if demand diminished for that which they are able to provide?  Would they then be subsisting off the greater toil of cultivating land or not be able to subsist at all?  The reality is that they have chosen from the courses of action available to them the means to which they think they can best procure a living.  The reality is that there is no way for those who demand to gain a great understanding of whether it is worse to suffer the life they live now or it would be worse to suffer the life they would live without demand for what they produce.

To be continued…..



A Beka Math Lesson

My daughter is using A Beka Pre-Algebra for math for her 8th grade year.  Her current lesson is on finding net personal income after Federal & FICA taxes.

The book tells her that “No one likes to pay taxes.   Nonetheless, the Lord tells us we should.”  Then it quotes the render unto Caesar passage out of context.

This is one of the reasons I like to home school.  You never know what kind of propaganda is going to pop up in your kids’ learning materials.  When you see it pop up, you can address it to help them to understand that everyone has an agenda, everyone comes at life with a bias.  When you see it pop up, you can help them to think critically about what is being said.

We talk about it.  We discuss that the question, which led to Jesus’s statement, was posed as a trick question.  We discuss that we don’t really know what is due to Caesar given that governments come to power through violence and subjugation of people.  We talk about how Jesus’s statement was a non-answer to the question that was posed, therefore we can’t take from that passage that God wants us to pay our taxes.

We move on to the next biblical justification the book gives for paying taxes.  They refer to Matthew 22:21, where the disciple goes and gets a coin out of the fish’s mouth so they can pay the tax so as to not offend.  We agree that is a much better reason to pay taxes, not because it is just to do so, but so we don’t stir up trouble.

We then move back to the idea that no one likes to pay taxes.  Her thought is that people only pay taxes so they don’t get thrown in jail.  I tell her that is not the case.  I let her know that there are plenty of people out there who want to pay taxes because they believe it is their duty to support their government.

Overall, I’m pleased with our conversation.  I was not particularly pleased about it happening during a math lesson at first, but it was a good platform for an interesting discussion.  I get that I am lending my own biases to what my daughter learns, but that only seems logical that I would teach her what I understand to be truth.

The Selfish Giant

In a quest to expose my kids to good literature, I picked up a book of children’s stories by Oscar Wilde.  I’m completely unfamiliar with his work, but a friend of mine is duly impressed by him, so I thought I would check him out.

I read the first story, A Selfish Giant, to my kids last night.  It began with the Giant being away for 7 years, and while he is gone the children of the village enjoy his garden.  He comes back, kicks them all out and builds a fence so they can’t invade his space again.  My bias kicks in quickly.  I think something along the lines of what is this, some kind of collectivist story to illustrate the evils of property rights? My kids, apparently heavily influenced by my views, start to comment.  “What’s wrong with putting a fence around your own property?”  “He’s been gone for 7 years, don’t the kids have squatters rights now?”  I tell them not to worry about that and just to enjoy the story.  My own bias remains with me, however, even as I keep it to myself.  I try to appreciate the beautiful imagery he paints, but I do not see the point of the story.  His fence leads to his garden being in perpetual winter, and he continues to wonder when spring will come.  One day the children sneak back in and his garden bursts into bloom, except one corner.  In the one corner there is a boy that has been unable to climb into the tree, unlike all the other children who have climbed the other trees.  The child is upset, because he can’t reach the branches.  In pity for him, the giant goes to him and lifts him up, and the tree blooms.  The giant realizes the children have brought him spring, and tears down the fence.  Ok, I think, I get it, you are suppose to share, whatever.  The story continues.  The giant grows old and feeble, and suddenly he sees the boy he had once helped.  He had always wondered what happened to him because he had never seen him among the other children.  He goes to him, because he had wanted to see him again.  When he gets to him, he notices the nail marks in his hands, in his feet.  Comprehension dawns on me, and I am moved to tears.  My kids ask, “What is it, Mommy?  Does the giant die?”

“Not yet,” I tell them.  I’ve read ahead while I was trying to compose myself.

“Why are you sad?”

“The child is Christ”

“Why does that make you sad?”

“I’m not really sad, I’m just moved.  I didn’t expect it.  This  story is praising my Lord.  I love to see my God praised.”

I can tell my kids don’t get it.   It is okay, I didn’t get comprehend God and faith for a long time either.  I think it is a process.

Back to property rights and collectivism.  Does this story have anything to say about that at all, given that it was really about Christ and redemption?  It was masterful, as I look back at it.  How the winter represented the hardness of his heart, how the fence represented him closing himself off to love.

I can still make it about property rights.  No one put a gun to his head and forced him to share.  He was permitted to wallow in his selfishness.  It was that he was permitted to languish in his self imposed winter that led him to desire the spring so much.  When the spring appeared, his desire for it led him to voluntarily knock down his walls and share.  Yes, the spring appeared because of trespassers, but because he was owner he could have still kicked them out and kept his walls.  He voluntarily chose the better path because he desired to do so, not because the collective forced him to share his bounty.  In doing so, he was saved.  He reaped his reward in Christ.

So, yes, the story is about sharing.  Yes, sharing from our bounty is the right thing to do.  You must own something first before you can share it.  You can’t give something that doesn’t belong to you.