Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Iron Heel by Jack London

In an earlier blog post I questioned why anyone should want to buy my book on Kindle when there were so many of the great books available for free. I first listed a number of books that I would very much like to see everyone read, then attempted to justify my existence by stating that while my work does not hold a candle to that of the great authors, at least it deals with contemporary issues better than books published over a century ago.
I was wrong.
I’ve recently been perusing The Iron Heel by Jack London and from even a few pages I can grab a blog’s worth of great quotes. And not only of things that were true of London’s time but true of the times we are living in. In fact, Jack London saw the present more clearly than I do, so acute was his mind’s eye. I am in the dirt before him. Everything I’ve attempted to say he’s already said, and better. Having said that, here are some quotes from The Iron Heel.

The mental processes of a man with whom one disagrees are always wrong. Therefore, the mind of the man is wrong.

The press of the United States? It is a parasitic growth that battens on the capitalist class. Its function is to serve the established by moulding public opinion, and right well it serves it.

The swift changes in our industrial system are causing equally swift changes in our religious, political, and social structures. An unseen and fearful revolution is taking place in the fibre and structure of society. On can only dimly feel these things. But they are in the air, now, today. One can feel the loom of them—things vast, vague, and terrible. My mind recoils from contemplation of what they may crystallize into.

“Oh, I am not challenging your sincerity,” Ernest continued. “You are sincere. You preach what you believe. There lies your strength and your value—to the capitalist class. But should you change your belief to something that menaces the established order, your preaching would be unacceptable to your employers, and you would be discharged.

“Our boasted civilization is based upon blood, soaked in blood, and neither you nor I nor any of us can escape the scarlet stain.”

“And not one of them was a free agent,” he said. “They were all tied to the merciless industrial machine. And the pathos of it and the tragedy is that they are tied by their heartstrings. Their children—always the young life that it is their instinct to protect. This instinct is stronger than any ethic they possess.”

“Tell me,” I said, “when one surrenders his personal feelings to his professional feelings, may not the action be defined as a sort of spiritual mayhem?”
I did not get an answer. Colonel Ingram had ingloriously bolted, overturning a palm in his flight.

They were the most hopeless of all I had encountered in my quest. They believed absolutely that their conduct was right. There was no question about it, no discussion. They were convinced that they were the saviours of society, and that it was they who made happiness for the many. And they drew pathetic pictures of what would be the sufferings of the working class were it not for the employment that they, and they alone, by their wisdom, provided for it.

“When they want to do a thing, in business of course, they must wait till there arises in their brains, somehow, a religious, or ethical, or scientific, or philosophic, concept that the thing is right. And then they go ahead and do it, unwitting that one of the weaknesses of the human mind is that the wish is parent to the thought. No matter what they want to do, the sanction always comes. They even see their way to doing wrong that right may come of it.

“The weakness in their position lies in that they are merely business men. They are not philosophers. They are not biologists nor sociologists. If they were, of course, all would be well. A business man who was also a biologist and a sociologist would know, approximately, the right thing to do for humanity. But outside the realm of business, these men are stupid. They know only business. They do not know mankind nor society, and yet they set themselves up as arbiters of the fates of the hungry millions and all the other millions thrown in.”

“They too, were bound to the machine, but they were so bound that they sat on top of it.”

“Here life was clean, noble, and alive. I was in touch with great souls who exalted flesh and spirit over dollars and cents, and to whom the thin wail of the starved slum child meant more than all the pomp and circumstance of commercial expansion and world empire. All about me were nobleness of purpose and heroism of effort, and my days and nights were sunshine and starshine, all fire and dew, with before my eyes, ever burning and blazing, the Holy Grail, Christ’s own Grail, the warm human, long-suffering and maltreated but to be rescued and saved at the last.”

“And so it was, instead of in paradise, that I found myself in the arid desert of commercialism. I found nothing but stupidity, except for business. I found none clean, noble, and alive, though I found many who were alive—with rottenness. What I did find was monstrous selfishness and heartlessness, and a gross, gluttonous, practiced and practical materialism.”

“You have failed in your management. You have made a shambles of civilization. You have been blind and greedy. You have risen up (as you today rise up), shamelessly, in our legislative halls, and declared that profits were impossible without the toil of children and babes.”

“No man can be intellectually insulted. Insult, in its very nature, is emotional.”

“Life sums itself up to you in profits. You have a firm and abiding belief that you were created for the sole purpose of making profits.”

“And the absurd thing about it is that you have repeated these phrases so often that you believe them. You want opportunity to plunder your fellow men in your own small way, but you hypnotize yourself into thinking you want freedom. You are piggish and acquisitive, but the magic of your phrases leads you to believe that you are patriotic. Your desire for profits, which is sheer selfishness, you metamorphose into altruistic solicitude for suffering humanity.”

“And why not?” he demanded. “Why can we not return to the ways of our fathers when this republic was founded?”
“I’ll try to tell you why not, though the telling will be rather hard. You see, you fellows have studied business, in a small way, but you have not studied social evolution at all. You are in the midst of a transition stage now in economic evolution, but you do not understand it, and that’s what causes all the confusion. Why cannot you return? Because you can’t. You can no more make water run up hill than can you cause the tide of economic evolution to flow back in its channel along the way it came. Joshua made the sun stand still upon Gibeon, but you would outdo Joshua. You would make the sun go backward in the sky. You would have time retrace its steps from noon to morning.”

The above quotes I have found in a few moments’ perusing of pages. There is so much more to be read within the pages of this classic. If you have a Kindle, you can download it free here:

If you don’t have a Kindle, I’m sure you can find it elsewhere.

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