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November 15, 2014



It's worth pointing out that Hammett was a Marxist. His point was not that human beings were all corrupt and awful (on the contrary). His point was that this is what happens to people under capitalism, where the only moral good is to make money.

As far as the origins of this Manichaeistic fantasy world is, surely the answer lies in the vast influence of Manichaeism on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three 'religions of Abraham'? All three so influential on Western thought. Nobody in India or China would adopt such a juvenile approach to the world, in which all human beings could be neatly slotted into categories marked 'good' and 'evil'.


Hidari, let's bring back the Greek gods...


You want to read Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus stories - he really gets the difference between the personal conviction that we are all the hero of our own novel and how society/history sees us. Because yes, most of us cling to the idea of goodies and baddies, and ALL of us who do paint ourselves as goodies - antiheroes at worst - even people like Putin and Pol Pot.

Ralph Musgrave

It’s the political left rather than the political right which wants to ban the expression of what Chris calls “incorrect” views. Indeed political correctness is a child of the left, not the right.

Another example: Marine Le Pen has had her immunity from prosecution withdrawn so as to make it easier for lefties in Europe who don’t like her to arrest her.

Donald A. Coffin

In fact, the moral(?) stance of Red Harvest runs through Hammett's work. In The Glass Key, Ned Beaumont, a gambler and fixer for a corrupt political boss gets involved in a murder investigation, initially to bury it. In The Maltese Falcon, Spade tells Bridget O'Shaugnessy not to assume he's as crooked as he appears to be--and he does appear to be crooked. And so on. Hammett's view of the world was not, I would suggest, shaped so much by Marxism as by living through World War I and the 1920s.

Phil Beesley

Dashiell Hammett was a lefty. He had friends who were Communists, but to my knowledge he never signed up to any political party. When he confronted the HUAC, he was being contrary.

In the first paragraph of The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade is described: "He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan." Sam Spade is a compromised man, but ultimately a good man. Spade is more like Chandler's Marlowe than Hammett's previous anti-heros.
@Ralph Musgrave: Political correctness, the original definition, is about good manners; it's about treating pakis, niggers and queers with respect; do as you would be done by.

Political correctness, as an expression, has become perverted. It's no longer about the circumlocution that civil people use to describe people in wheel chairs or who are a bit different. "Anti-political correctness" is an excuse for vulgar discrimination.


Why Manichaeism? Because babies and historic achievement live in the deep, dark, and murky waters of our world: aren’t we all inclined to take care, even intellectually? Perhaps not if you’re big enough: if military might buys you realism, and sanctified capitalism good intentions beyond reproach: if it really is (just) a shame about the collateral damage required for your maintenance.

Luis Enrique

Nobody watched breaking bad?


As Terry Pratchett has it, it's our ability to believe in things like justice that make it possible.

And while justice in the UK has many faults, it is a world of difference to many other nations in the world.

Realism is important (I'm definitely a pessimist by nature) but cynicism is truly corrosive. Without belief that some people do good, we create a world where people don't do good.


I'm 22 and it seems like the last two years have been a blur of: "Have you, like, watched Breaking Bad? You, like, totally should; like seriously bro."

My impression is that a massive portion of young westerners have watched BB. Not sure that's done anything to make us take moral ambiguity seriously, though.


Putin controls his oligarchs. So far. In the US at least, they control the system and the "leaders."

Phil Beesley

Luis Enrique: "Nobody watched breaking bad?"

Correct analysis, nobody watched it. The programme was broadcast via channels to which nobody subscribed. Influential people talked about Breaking Bad; that's different from actually watching the programme.

The Fall has a second series on the BBC. The first series is filmed in high definition video -- and all of the big scenes occur in high definition darkness. High definition blackness. The first series has characters with glorious Irish accents; the female "star" unconvincingly speaks from the front of her mouth; Irish actors speak honestly; the "star" warbles and babbles.

But what would Mark E Smith of The Fall think?

Icarus Green

Saying anything about this topic is probably above my station, but I believe manicheasism pre dates the abrahamic religions. The Socratic philosophers talk a lot about 'virtue' and being a virtuous man. Although I think Aristotle made it a bit more nuanced that we need to have the virtues in balance (i.e being generous v being doormat). Likewise the Hindus, talk a lot about Karma and good and bad karma.

To be honest I have a quite manichean view of history and I don't really apologise for it. I find it hard to believe one could be a marxist without also having a manichean view of economic history. The fact that children readily take to distinctions between good and evil in their comics, movies and books and are able to distinguish good and bad before social conditioning makes them racist etc shows that a manichean view may be a universal truth about human affairs. That yes, there are generally good guys and generally bad guys and while the former may have faults and the latter may have redeeming qualities, its still possible to classify them.

Phil Beesley

Icarus Green suggests: "Saying anything about this topic is probably above my station..."

That's fine. But you wrote a few words in your essay. Should I bother reading your words?

Ralph Musgrave

Phil Beesley,

Your claim that political correctness is simply about good manners is naïve. The high priests of PC are not greatly bothered about anyone calling Tories or Manchester united supporters “useless twits” for example. But the high priests will try and get you arrested if you say the same about Muslims or Pakistanis.

PC is thus in part a political movement, aimed at swamping Britain with foreign cultures and races.

Phil Beesley

@Ralph Musgrave: "Your claim that political correctness is simply about good manners is naïve."

I might be naive but I will be a better man for my foolishness.

Icarus Green


2 paragraphs, an "essay" does not make. I say above my station, because I've not really read much if anything about ethics or moral philosophy.

Phil Beesley

Thank you Icarus, for the generous response. My words to you are sincere.


Interesting that Ralph Musgrave advances the manicheasism of the far right that tolerance for difference is a wicked conspiracy to "swamp" our culture.

Remember that all the guff about migration from the right on the basis of economic arguments is a smokescreen for this kind of reactionary view. A view that is repugnant to "our" culture in the UK.


Looking around the democratic world it seems that roughly 50% of people are leftish leaning and 50% rightish leaning. So is this true, and is it an innate feature of people generally? Might have interesting implications for what is 'good' government.

Deviation From The Mean

"Looking around the democratic world it seems that roughly 50% of people are leftish leaning and 50% rightish leaning."

This was highlighted in the 19th century. There was a belief then that capitalism created conservatism and liberalism in equal measure. I think to put this as an innate feature of people and not an innate feature of the system is mistaken. As I doubt tribal people suffer from dichotomy. I don't think tribal people suffer from the good and evil people syndrome either.

I think the good and evil phenomenon is a product of a noisy culture, where there is ample time for ideas (often erroneous) to be articulated (I am ware of the irony here!). But despite the noise I think deep down the same hypocrisy lies at its heart. In a simpler society the good guys are your tribe and the bad guys just happen to be the ones who are competing for the same land and resources! Except I don't think it is articulated between good and bad in those simple societies. Just these bastards need to be dealt with or we starve!

In modern society I think the same partisan mentality prevails. I am good, the people like me are good and those who are different may be bad, we should at least be open to that possibility the narrative goes.

For example. when we carpet bomb Iraq, lay waste to the Middle East, torture people etc we are noble and are doing it for the right reasons, whereas Putin, who has never aerially bombarded any region as far as I can tell is a mortal threat to world peace!

Transcending good and evil seems quite a noble enterprise to my mind.

Of course that doesn't mean you start letting out all the murderers from prison, or pay lip service to fascists like Musgrave who use any and every topic to talk about those nasty Muslims. The irony here of course is that fascist Ralph is more beholden to the good and evil narrative than any of use. Anglo Saxon good, the rest bad, furthermore the Muslims should be put to death or what exactly would you do with them dear Ralph, you evil fuckwit?


I would agree with the commenters above who highlight the role of Christianity, and maybe through that actual Manichaeism.

Pre-Christian ancient writings seem to me much less prone to good vs. evil narratives - who are the baddies in the Iliad? The Trojans aren't portrayed in that way.

Deviation From The Mean

Without contradicting myself above I do think there is a time and place for generalisation, of which good vs evil is but an example after all.

I was reminded of this when reading eminent Marxist economist David Harvey, who asks the question whether the labour theory of value is still relevant and brings up among other things, the power of retail capitalists, rentier capitalists and on the other side collective labour, and what constitutes collective labour. This is all well and good but the danger is you lose yourself in a forest of infinite relations. Sometimes you have to step back, abstract and look at things in general.

So on one side we have a class of exploiters who live off the back of a labouring class. Let us cut the bullshit and get rid of the bastards who exploit us!

call the sociologist

Interesting quick reference to Breaking Bad which is popular with the Liberal Thinking classes. Most students 17-22+ have seen it and rate it. Many DVD sets circulating. The teacher who becomes a drugs king and the dreadful violent slaughter that then ensues. It could not be on main channels because of the violence but its juxtaposed with the daily life of a struggling middle class american. I said to my students I would want therapy after watching it for all those episodes. Unsuitable to anyone less than 18.

Icarus Green


Good and evil may or may not be a kind of social construct that comes with the increased use of symbolic language in advanced societies as you seem to be suggesting.

But even within these primitive tribes you posit, there are usually still ideas about what constitutes noble from innoble, honour from dishonour, demons/evil spirits from the good ancestors etc.

A more interesting question is that if we accept people naturally classify people into good and evil, then are some people better than others at making the correct judgments of this? The whole legal system is built on this question. And that is a question of moral philosophy which I would like to learn more about.

Ralph Musgrave


On the subject of “repugnant” I regard abducting school girls and selling them into forced marriage as “repugnant”. Plus I regard beheading members of other religions as “repugnant”. Plus I regard female genital mutilation as “repugnant”. I could go on, and on, and on. But obviously I’m wrong. Clearly I need to “tolerate” these wonderful “differences” (to use your words) between British culture and other cultures.


Whoa. So many errors here. It all depends on whether you think "morality" is something you teach your children (e.g. killing people is wrong) or whether it "all depends" (e.g. it's OK to kill people in just wars).

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Deviation From The Mean


"But even within these primitive tribes you posit, there are usually still ideas about what constitutes noble from innoble, honour from dishonour, demons/evil spirits from the good ancestors etc."

I would argue that noble/innoble came into being in a time and place and didn't/doesn't exist in certain times and places (certainly not tribal peoples). I.e. It is a product of a social system. Same with your other examples. Of course maybe every community has some variant but I think you have to look at these in their historical context to fully understand them.

The other thing - I wouldn't discount biological processes (evolution) from the equation, yes there may be social constructs but often they are framed with reference to evolutionary impulses.

"A more interesting question is that if we accept people naturally classify people into good and evil, then are some people better than others at making the correct judgments of this? The whole legal system is built on this question."

I can only answer this by saying that laws, what is right or wrong, should never be decided by a few individuals but should be as 'democratic' as possible. The question of abortion, for example, should be one decided by society as a whole. One argument for abolishing classes is that these issues, along with identity issues, can be given their ultimate expression. Some leftists play down identity issues, I would say, ok, but only with the understanding that once all the class shit is dealt with the much more important issue of identity can be truly given the prominence it deserves or words to that affect!

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