Two Revolutions: Industrial & Political

Woolby Anniel2/9/15
Two important revolutions rocked the world in the mid to late 1700’s, and both were tied together in the political battles over wool.

In another lifetime I was a spinner and weaver and learned much about how the herding of sheep, goats and other fiber bearing animals controlled the politics and life of different civilizations. China and the Far East were heavily invested in the silk trade from very early times, even traveling as far as 4,000 miles to trade silk with Rome. The fertile plains and grasslands of Central Asia were used to establish trading routes all over the Medieval World.

In most European areas clothing was woven from sheep and goat wool, and later from long staple Egyptian cotton. The Irish are still famous for their fine linens. In mid-eastern countries, such as Palestine, camel hair was the warm fiber of choice. Yak fiber, musk ox, horse, cashmere goat and other animal fur and hair have been used for textiles in different lands.

In the early Americas the textiles used by different groups consisted of native sheep and llama wool, alpaca and vicuña fiber, mostly from the Andes, and some forms of native silk, linen and cotton. The Rulers were the only ones allowed to use certain fibers, such as vicuña, for clothing. The rulers in some areas reserved only the best of everything for themselves. For instance, they were the only ones allowed to consume chocolate.

When the earliest settlers came to the English colonies they were bound by English law, and the textile industry was jealously guarded. Many of the colonists complaints centered around the restrictions placed on what they could use for clothing, the production of woolen cloth and the onerous taxation placed on woolens.

Making clothes the King’s Way was very involved. No one-hundred percent wool cloth was permitted to be woven in the colonies. The death penalty for piracy could be imposed for trading in fine all wool fabric without the King’s seal, and of course there was a black market for smuggling in that wool. Sheep could be raised and wool spun for use as taxes, but the yarn kept at private homes could only be used by the colonists as weft (also known as woof), which are the crosswise threads. So the colonists, were allowed to grow flax, spun crude linen and used it for warp threads. When they wove the linen with wool it made a cheap cloth fifty/fifty wool and linen fabric known as “Linsey-Woolsey,” used by the poor. Only wealthy folks could afford pure wool fabric, suits and clothing from England.

In 1764 an Englishman from a small town in Lancashire named James Hargreaves began the Industrial Revolution when he invented the Spinning Jenny. His daughter knocked his wife’s spinning wheel over and he was intrigued to realize that the spindle and bobbin kept spinning while the wheel was lying free on its side. máquina textilHe got the idea of maximizing production of yarn by having more than one spindle and bobbin on the wheel. His Spinning Jenny consisted of a multiple line of spindles and bobbins turning from one wheel. His invention led to the building of factories for large scale production of yarn and fabrics. (As an aside, a loom known as a Dobby Loom is said by many researchers to have been the first step towards the computer. I owned a Dobby Loom once and it filled half the living room.)

Before the Industrial Revolution, one of the burdens placed on the American colonists was a levy on each household for spun yarn. Because the levy was so high, almost every household kept one daughter or other female relative (preferably unmarried so she wouldn’t be distracted by children) employed as the family “Spinster.” Now you know where that term originated. The yarn they spun was a tax and shipped back for use by the weavers in England for some years after the invention of the Spinning Jenny.

Women were the spinners in the colonies. Preparation and spinning of flax was a long and cumbersome process. After harvesting, the flax plants had to be “retted,” that is, rotted in water until the fibers could be peeled and separated into strings, then further softened in wet ditches by being walked on. The fibers were then placed on distaffs (another name for the female line) before spinning on huge wheels known as “walking wheels.” And then there was the cleaning, carding and combing of wool for use with the smaller wool wheels, which are the wheels most people are familiar with. (Another aside: A Walking Wheel would have filled the other half of our living room.)

Men were the weavers during colonial times. A man who was a weaver would stay at home, plant and tend his crops, build and repair fences and barns during spring and summer, until he finished harvesting and storing his crops in the fall. Then he would travel from village to village, from home to home, and weave blankets and cloth from all the wool and flax prepared and spun in those homes during the previous year. The families he wove for would house and feed him until his work was done. Then they would pay him, in coin if possible, or with some of the blankets and cloth he had woven.

The weaver could choose to stay for the final step in the preparation of all kinds of cloth, including his share. This step is the “fulling” process. The bible says the Lord will cleanse His people with “refiners fire and fuller’s soap.” “Fuller’s Soap” is defined as a caustic soap used to clean cloth. Well, yes, but fulling cloth properly is still a very exacting profession. In Biblical times, and well into early colonial days, cloth was often stretched out and placed in long trenches filled with urine, manure, dirt and water. After resting the fabric there for several days, the people of the village would line up bare-foot and walk and stomp on the woven fabric until the individual fibers were evenly softened and broken down, thus making the fibers in the cloth cling to each other. This “whole cloth” was then washed in soap and clean water, rinsed, dried, shaved and pressed before being made into clothing. Blankets were also fulled but left wooly and unshaven for greater warmth.

There were many indignities heaped upon the heads of the colonists by the King before they finally rebelled to claim their God-given rights. The actions taken by the King and mill owners in England on the matter of wool contributed greatly to the sentiments which led to the war.

When it came time for his inauguration, George Washington, who loved fine clothing, chose to wear a suit of one-hundred percent wool cloth, every inch of which was sheared from American sheep, then spun, woven, fulled, and sewn in the new United States of America, a visible sign to his countrymen that they were freemen. They were free from England’s tyrannical treatment in many matters, one of which was the bondage of the King’s foolish wool policies. • (9423 views)

This entry was posted in Essays. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Two Revolutions: Industrial & Political

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    The development of reasonably effective steam engines also played a major role in the Industrial Revolution. Early steam engines (such as the Newcomen engine) were too inefficient to be useful for anything more than pumping water out of coal mines (with their abundant fuel). After repairing a Newcomen engine, James Watt modified it to make it sufficiently efficient to be used in many other applications. And of course the cotton gin played an important role in American economic development.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Very interesting stuff, Annie. In a previous life I was a tax collector keeping an eye on all you spinners and spinsters.

    I’m reading a book now on life in the Medieval times, and clearly cloth (particularly wool) was probably the main commercial industry, large and small. It’s very interesting reading about all the processes involved in making cloth from wool. And, as you surely know, you can dye the wool an any stage of the process…and right off the sheep (likely after it’s de-greased though, one would suppose) you get “dyed in the wool.”

    What a process. The wool has to be washed and dried, beaten, combed, and carded. And the job is not yet finished even after the spinning and weaving. There’s an interesting part of this book that talks about some of the processes, and thus some of the surnames derived from the doing:

    The material that comes from the weaver’s loom is not finished cloth. It must be taken to the fuller, who soaks and shrinks the fabric, and rubs it with fuller’s earth, not only to clean it but to give it body and help it take dye. The soaking is done in a trough, the fuller and his assistants trampling the mixture in their bare feet (whence another word for fuller—“walker”—the English surnames Fuller and Walker denoting the same trade).

    I knew a “Fuller” in school. Sort of a rough kid. The author says that many skin issues were likely due to the rough nature of wool against the skin. Cotton had yet to become much of a factor in the 1300’s or so (originally imported from India and via the Moors in Spain to manufacturing in France, Italy, and Flanders).

    I’d never heard of 50/50 wool/flax cloth. And I had no idea that 100% wool was outlawed in the Colonies. And I had no idea about the heavy levy for spun yarn. What an interesting derivation for the term “spinster.” And a very interesting job: the itinerant weaver.

    And you wonder how anyone ever discovered that flax could make good cloth. Amazing. If it were up to me, the clothing industry would have never advanced beyond the use of tree bark.

    • Anniel says:

      Brad- The dyeing of cloth is still very complex. You can spin and dye wool “in the grease.” This causes the yarn to be more, what would be the word, probably “mottled” or variegated in color, and some wools, no matter how caustically you treat them, can leave the spinner’s arms still dripping with lanolin. I spun some yarn from a black Rambouliet fleece and never could get the grease out. I didn’t need hand lotion for awhile.

      One of my friends nearly died (herself) from dyeing some yarn in homemade dye from the bark of a South American tree. She was a long time getting better. The docs said she absorbed some bad stuff from the liquid she steeped the bark in, but the bark itself was a powerful insecticide and inhaling the fumes didn’t help her lungs any.

      But we had many joyous days using Koolaid and Jello as our dyes of choice. Before her first surgery, when she knew her head would be shaved, my youngest daughter dyed her hair with red Koolaid. Thinking about it, maybe she’d do it now even if she was keeping her hair.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I’m amazed that sheep can put up with their own coat. It’s just so greasy.

        Most clothing these day is cotton or some other material, not wool. I can’t ever remember actually owning anything of wool. But I probably had a wool sweater once or twice. I remember how much the things itched.

        Was there a common use for all the grease and lanolin that they cleaned off the wool back in those days?

        • Anniel says:

          I think lanolin was boiled in water out of the wool, cooled and skimmed off. It was used as a skin softener and medicine as far back as Ancient Greece. It’s also been used as a metal preservative, especially on tools to be stored. Bag Balm is still another use.

    • Anniel says:

      Oh no, The Taxman Cometh!

      And I almost forgot how horribly it hurts when you miss with the cards and almost tear the skin off your hands and arms. Then I once read an account of the Troubles in Ireland and it told about the IRA carding suspected traitors all over their bodies. That could be one of the most painful tortures of all time.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        And I almost forgot how horribly it hurts when you miss with the cards and almost tear the skin off your hands and arms.

        One of my grandmothers had a set of cards and a sample bit of wool to play with when I was a kid. Although I don’t ever remember being scratched by the cards, now that you mention it, that does seem to be a natural occupational hazard. I remember when I took an archery class. Who would have thought that the most immediate danger wasn’t getting hit by a stray arrow but rubbing the bow string across your wrist as you shot?

        Reading your account, and some of the accounts of clothing in general in the Middle Ages, is fascinating. It was some time in the Middle Ages, for instance, when pants were invented, or at least started to be worn by men in Europe. Before that, men and women I guess wore the same sort of tent-like gown (or whatever you call it).

        And it’s interesting to read that it wasn’t until a bit later that things such as pockets and buttonholes (they had buttons for ornamental purposes at first) were invented and/or went into vogue. Before pockets most people carried things in a leather pouch of some sort, as one sees regularly in the Cadfael series with Derek Jacobi.

        What a blessed gift that soft cotton is. (And could Disco ever have occurred without the invention of polyester?) And the very fact of cheap clothing is a near miracle. Remember the maid in “A Christmas Carol” who stole many of Mr. Scrooge’s clothes and draperies? Other than grabbing someone’s $200 pair of Nike sneakers, you’d never think of such a thing these days.

        I don’t think anyone can be said to be a conservative unless they’ve read a minimum amount of history, for our lives now are centered around the fact that we have it so easy and do not appreciate what we have. Imagine having to wear wool underwear. Yikes. No thanks. Imagine having to wear the primitive types of shoes back then that offered little support and very little cushion.

        And a doubly-thanks to whoever it was that invented toilet paper.

        • Anniel says:

          And I don’t have to darn or knit stockings anymore, unless I choose to. Sometimes I think about all the things people HAD to do not that many years ago and we don’t even think about some of the “necessities” that have gone by the wayside. For good or ill, the world changes.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I lied about being a tax collector in a past life. I was actually a monk. And if I wasn’t I should have been because I think it would have suited me.

            One of the most conservative things a person can do is to go old-fashioned and make some of your own stuff. I have a friend who makes his own soap…just because. And he now makes his own shaving cream.

            Some of my conservative friends amaze me at the products they can make. Some do it because they like to. Others like to but are also sort of preparing for the zombie apocalypse when the checks and “free stuff” stop flowing to the dependent class.

            Of course, it’s been a sort of libtardish tradition to go “natural.” I suppose those two political poles wrap around and join on certain issues. Many of the ideas of conservatism and liberalism are actually much the same. One of the aspects of liberalism is that they never took themselves seriously. It was mostly bumper-sticker of fortune-cookie feel-good stuff. But what if the libtards actually did “Teach your children well”? Good gracious, we certainly need that today.

            Inherent to conservatism is being somewhat the salt of the earth: simple, plain, and grounded. Things do come easy to so many these days which has a tendency to turn is into whinny marshmallows. But it’s hard to pick and choose between what hardships are needed and what aren’t. I certainly don’t want to do without indoor plumbing or modern medicines. But the end result of having things too easy is that you become a creature like we see developing in Europe where they are “nice” but not good, where their greatest aspiration isn’t transcendent but is instead in regards to where and when their next vacation will be.

            Having things hard, being in touch with reality, and being plain don’t necessarily save one from being a lightweight ninny. Humans need very little prompting to evince ignoble thoughts and behavior. But how can it not be good to get a little beyond the pre-packaged and processed? If one is to live any can of authentic life, how does one do so in a mass-marketed culture where happiness itself is pre-packaged and sold by the yard?

            These are ultimately choices we have to make for ourselves – if we have the gusto left to do so. Many many people cannot imagine a life for themselves outside the mold of modern popular secular culture.

            That’s why, to me, reading about something as simple as wool is meaningful. There’s a realness there that is so lacking in much of our society. Wool may not be grand, but it is a vital part of hairstory.

            • Anniel says:

              I wondered when I wrote this how many people might be interested, but the whole field of textile making and arts has fascinated me, for some of the reasons you set out above. My father’s older sister had only boys so I was the grateful recipient of hr sewing and baking skills. I learned crocheting from my mother, and knitting from a book, and I still can’t reliably tie a square knot.

              I told my grandson this morning about a Valentine’s Day when I was volunteering at my kids’ school, and the florist delivered to my room a big vase of flowers from my husband, and then said he would be right back. He returned carrying my first spinning wheel. I had to stop crying before I could call Bear to thank him.

              My son took up origami as a very young boy. Then when his wife bought a book about folding fabric into origami flowers for quilts he taught himself how to do the most incredible fabric origami art to sell.

              As we preserve some of the past it may be that we reawaken in some people the joys of a simpler more joyful life.

              And the picture I see of George Washington in an exquisite wool suit, all American made, with his countrymen cheering him, makes me happy

            • Rosalys says:

              “I have a friend who makes his own soap…”

              I had a friend, and old woman twice my age, who had for years saved up all of the fat from cooking and once or twice a year made all of her own soap. Apparently new soap is rather harsh, but as it ages it mellows. She gave me an old bar of it once and it was lovely stuff! I’m a sucker for handmade soaps at craft fairs!

          • Rosalys says:

            I remember my mother darning socks – and that was in the late fifties, early sixties! She had this funny little wooden darning “egg” tool, used to help keep the full, rounded shape of the heel in the sock during repair. I think she gave up darning in the sixties. It was a skill I was never taught, and socks being so cheap, who needs to know?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Pants were very useful for riding horses. The ancient Persians used them for that reason. And I recall from a high school physical education class that included archery that we had to provide some sort of leather protector for the hand holding the bow to protect it from the bowstring after it was released.

          Apparently polyester burns a lot worse than cotton cloth. The Pacific War Encyclopedia by James Dunnigan and Albert Nofi points out that the US Navy uniform then was cotton, which provided some protection from flames. Now they use polyester, which burns differently (and a very hot flame to boot).

    • Rosalys says:

      I had heard of linsey/woolsey, but not of the laws forbidding the wearing of 100% wool by the lower classes. Typical of tyrants is the taking and keeping of all the best stuff for themselves! Plus it seems a violation of the Old Testament principle of not muzzling the ox that treads the corn. On the other hand, the laboring classes probably could not afford to keep much of the good stuff for themselves as it would better serve the family to sell it. Like the making of lace before the industrial revolution, it was all made by hand. Lace of a usable size took a long time to make and was enormously expensive. A working class woman couldn’t afford to make lace for herself. Of course women in noble or prosperous households could take up tatting for their own amusement and adornment, and to keep hands busy which the devil could otherwise make use of.

      Yes, wool is itchy and scratchy (my mother told us that even her bathing suits were made of wool knit back in the the thirties!) which is why it is best to have a layer of cotton between it and your skin. There are many advantages of wool over modern synthetics. For instance, wool will keep you warm even when it gets wet.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Army uniforms used to be made of wool — which was fine in winter, but you can imagine what it was like in summer. This was especially true when campaigning in subtropical areas such as the Deep South during the War of the Rebellion.

        • Rosalys says:

          Tell me about it! My husband is in a Fife & Drum Corp associated with an historic state militia. Their uniforms are authentic to the 1790’s and they are made of wool. These intrepid guys march in all kinds of weather, and of course most parades are held during the summer. Like the postmen of old, neither heat, snow, rain, nor hail will deter them. If the parade is not called off they will march! Actually, I don’t know if they ever had to endure a hailstorm, but I remember several torrential downpours and a St. Patrick’s Day snow storm they marched in. Wool is nice in the snow storm, but 85% humidity on a 90+ degree in the middle of August is another thing. My husband says that due to the insulating properties of wool, if the temperature goes above 98.6 it’s actually cooler inside his uniform. That is of course meant to be a joke!

  3. Annie — what an interesting piece! I learned a great deal. Thanks for explaining linsey-woolsey — I’d heard the term, but didn’t know he story behind it. Nor did I know the taxation issues.

    Spinning wool was an activity I used to imagine myself doing in my old age, but here I am and I still don’t have time. Alas. I did — a long time ago — make my daughter’s wedding dress out of fine Irish handkerchief linen. It was such a joy to work with.

    I agree that while we bemoan the condition of our country and dread the next shocking news story, still our daily lives are sooooooo much better than the lives our ancestors lived — even just a generation or two ago. A while ago I read “The Hereitc’s Daughter” — the story of one of the women hanged during the Salem witch trials. The descriptions of the day-to-day lives back then made me really appreciate being born in the 20th century. I wouldn’t have lasted 2 weeks back then.

    Thanks again for another wonderful piece. dc

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I can remember, a few decades back, some ad (I think it was for Arm & Hammer baking soda) about “a simpler, more natural time” back in the past. Of course, in those simpler times most people had to do all their chores without mechanical help. And, as I noted (being rather morbid), those people died from simpler, more natural diseases like diphtheria, pneumonia, nephritis, and typhoid fever.

      • Rosalys says:

        I used to belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism and my husband and I have been involved in Revolutionary War reenactments (but not too much, because I hate camping!) It’s fun so long as you don’t have to worry about catching the bubonic plague or small pox, and could come home to a hot shower and central heating. The 14th and 18th centuries are nice places to visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          As a matter of fact, there is a nice book that basically provides a tour guide to the 14th century, including a few unpleasant details most people (including SCA members) are probably unaware of. The author wondered why anyone would want to visit it.

          Incidentally, during the Revolutionary War Washington had the Continentals inoculated against smallpox. This was variolation rather than vaccination, of course, since Edward Jenner only came up with the latter around the end of the century.

    • Anniel says:

      Deanna, Now that I have more time for the things I love doing, the knees are shot. It’s positively shocking how physically demanding spinning and weaving are. My weaving buddy, Molly, kept a sign by her loom that said, YOU HAVE TO BE WARPED TO WEAVE. Right below that though was one that said, EWE’S NOT FAT, EWE’S JUST FLUFFY. I choose to believe both.

  4. Rosalys says:

    I had a course in college called “Fibers” and among other things we learned how to weave on a loom. It was one one of the most therapeutically relaxing activities I had ever done. Buying my own loom was never an option as money and space were always in short supply years ago. A friend showed me how to make and use a back strap loom, which costs almost nothing to make, and since it is rolled up when not being worked on, takes up very little space. I made a couple of small pieces. Then life got in the way and I forgot about weaving. Maybe I should take it up again!

    • Anniel says:

      Rosalys – When I was making my wedding dress I wanted to keep it simple, so the dress wasn’t fancy. I decided at the last minute to buy some pretty lace for the waist (I once had one) so I looked at some kinds kept on display in a glass cabinet and saw the perfect lace. I think it was called Cluny lace and was about 3 inches wide so I thought I might as well get 2 yards. The sales clerk reverently (should have been a tip-off) cut it off and announced the price of $280.00. Thank goodness I still had that much in my account or I would have gotten married in Debtors prison. The lace was handmade, etc. every thread got used carefully over the years.

      I did learn to darn and I occasionally still knit stockings. They are the only ones I would darn today. Sometimes you can still find darning eggs in Antique stores.

      Warping anything larger than a rigid heddle loom is a pain in the patootie, but Inkle weaving takes only a small loom and is fairly easy to learn. One of my sons makes beautiful belts and straps for his musical instruments on an Inkle loom.

      • Rosalys says:

        $140/yd is more than I would pay for anything> today! Way back when it would almost make a mortgage payment. In fact, 40 years ago when my husband and I bought our first house, I think our monthly payment was not too much more than that. We paid $19,900 for that house. We sold it for $60,000 nine years later. Seven years ago, we were looking to buy another house and I saw that my old, blue house, which I loved, was on the market again as a flip. I couldn’t resist taking a tour on open house day. Yeah, they updated it, but they didn’t do that great a job (in my mind’s eye they took out a lot of the charm and character it had – and they didn’t address the fact that the master bedroom had no heat in it!) and yet it sold for $220,000! That was right at the top of the market, literally weeks away from the housing bubble bust, but still…

        It’s a shock to realize just how much our currency has been devalued. It’s not that things are more expensive now – it’s that our money has become so cheap!

        In colonial times you could have been married in no gown at all (shiftless!) and then your new husband would not have been responsible for the debt of the lace had you not been able to pay for it! I often wondered if that colonial law was real or apocryphal. But it sure makes for an interesting situation!

        • Timothy Lane says:

          FDR devalued the dollar from $20 to the ounce of gold to $35. Then, in 1971, Nixon let the dollar float. How many does it take now to buy an ounce of gold?

          Incidentally, F. Paul Wilson in An Enemy of the State supplied a basic method for computing the long-term effect of inflation, known as the Rule of 72. If you divide the rate of inflation into 72, that gives you how many years it takes to (approximately) halve the value of currency (since this relies on the compounding effect, it takes a few years to work properly).

        • Anniel says:

          The only reason I kept the lace was they had already cut it. I think I had just received my paycheck that day, so Bear married a pauper. Sweet man.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m going to speak openly and I hope I don’t embarrass Annie in the process.

    Annie has achieved the status of the rare professor who is granted the title of “Fellow” (although they have these in the business world as well). It generally means the person has achieved so much that he or she is free to pursue his or her studies as he or she sees fit. If Annie submits an article, no matter how esoteric, it will get published. She has achieved Fellow status (Fellowette?). (And unfortunately there’s no money that goes along with this.)

    This is so because she has done what so few are able to do: Write like a real person instead of, say, “Annie Incorporated.” You get the feeling there’s a real person there with real experience and an eclectic taste (also a favorite with me).

    How many conservative sites would feature an article about wool? (Well, there are perhaps a couple.) But I find this kind of stuff interesting as a geek of history and of tech. But there is another, more important, consideration and I happened into it while reading the forward of “Civilization and Its Enemies” by Lee Harris:

    The subject of this book is forgetfulness.

    By this I do not mean our tendency to misplace valuable objects, or our inability to recall the name of the boss’s dog, but the collective and cultural amnesia that overcomes any group of human beings who have long benefited from the inestimable blessing of civilization . . .

    Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long accustomed to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or whether their children would be sold into slavery by a victorious foe.

    Even then it is necessary for the parents, and even grandparents, to have forgotten as well, so that there is no living link between the tranquility of the present generation and those dismal periods in which the world behaved very much in accordance with the rules governing Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, where human life was “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” When parents have forgotten what the world was like, they can hardly be expected to teach their children how it was or what one had to do in order to survive it.

    Civilized people forget that in order to produce a civilization there must be what the German sociologist Norbert Elias has called “the civilizing process,” and that this process, if it is to be successful, must begin virtually at our birth, and hence many long years before the child can have any say about the kind of training he would have preferred. . .

    Civilized people forget how much work it is to not kill one’s neighbors, simply because this work was all done by our ancestors so that it could be willed to us as an heirloom.

    It can only do us good to remember how things were before today . . . and how we got to where we are now. Because we have not, there have been far too many people who have been successful pulling the wool over our eyes.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Another aspect of civilization is increasing division of labor. Leonard Read in his essay “I, Pencil” pointed out how a pencil is made using the labor of many thousands in a variety of fields, few of whom are actually involved in making a pencil (and, quite possibly, none could make a pencil by themselves even given the requisite materials). This is why a command economy doesn’t work well. But it also has other consequences. William R. Forstchen in his Lost Regiment and its sequels was exploring (by a Union infantry regiment and artillery battery transported to a different world) how many people it would take to rebuild a reasonable semblance of their society. It would take far more people today than a sesquicentury ago.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, indeed. Specialization has led to an enormous increase in productivity, and thus wealth. And I don’t sometimes wonder that it hasn’t made us very smart in a very narrow areas, and rather uninformed in a kind of overall way.

        You could say one of the purposes of this site was not to drive a sharp wedge into the ground endlessly talking about the same political points in finer and finer detail until our skulls crack (which describes much of the conservative media where the drive is to look smart about some subject by dredging up esoterica).

        I think we all need to be a bit more well-rounded. It really is true, the more you know the more you know you don’t know. Thus one can understand why those on the under-educated Left think they know so much.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          That “very smart in a very narrow area” is a perfect description of most intellectuals, and is the reason why they can be so “smart” and “knowledgeable” — but so stupidly arrogant.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I couldn’t agree more, Timothy. Mea culpa. We were so smart when we were younger. And as they say, as we got older our parents suddenly became so much smarter.

            I think part of this push for the gold stars, the emphasis on self-esteem, and the general move toward narcissism is a reaction to our popular youth culture where everyone is shown having a good time in resplendent beauty and with lots of money and fame. Bombarded by these images all day long in our culture, who wouldn’t get a bit of a feeling of inferiority?

            And for whatever reason, the idea of humbling yourself in order to be taught by your betters is an idea not as popular as it used to be. This has been facilitated by university faculty and directors who have given into the students, refusing to play the adult and instead joining the Cult of Nice (where being liked, cool, or hip is far more important than doing your job as an educator). This may be the real harm of one-parent families as well. There just isn’t enough time to figuratively beat civilization into little Johnny (assuming the Dr. Spockian crowed still believes in such a thing).

            • Timothy Lane says:

              As MAD Magazine once said:

              Spock, Spock, the baby doc
              Leads a peace march down the block.
              Around him everywhere you look
              Are kids he messed up with his book.

    • Anniel says:

      Ummm- Not embarrassed exactly, but sort of surprised by such an honor from Brad. I have been so profoundly grateful for both this site and Brad’s encouragement to everyone while we struggle to progress. Thank you for the new title “Fellowette.” I shall wear it gladly.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        You bet, Annie. And because this is a conservative site, we don’t hand out meaningless gold stars just to stroke people’s egos. This is not the equivalent of getting your masters degree in “gender studies” or some such nonsense. Your job will be to continue to learn, to read, to hone your skills and pass on that information. You would have done it anyway without the title. But as they humorously and repeatedly say in the movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, now your bona-fide. 😀

        • Anniel says:

          Wow, I’m bona fide. I accept my job, again, gladly.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            My overall plan/strategy/program for writing is to do some quality reading. My rough back-of-the-envelope calculation is that for every one word that comes out of my mouth I should read at least four from someone else of quality. Anyway, I like the cut of your jib, and I have no idea what a jib is.

            Anyway, my rough guidelines for writers would look like this:

            + Get down off your high horse. By all means be eloquent and educated, but never stuffy, arrogant, or stand-offish.

            + Write as much as it takes to make your point, but no more. I applaud Mr. Kung in the last Ten Commandments seminar, for example. There were plenty of good entries, some of them quite long. But I like how he nailed it (or nailed an aspect of it) very concisely. And we also know that Mr. Kung is able to write longer pieces as well. That said, and if you have the time, write as much as you can that fills out your points. There is no limit here as to the length. The only thing to keep in mind is that “quantity” does not automatically translate into “quality.”

            + In most situations perhaps we shouldn’t really “be ourselves,” despite the common cliche. But when writing, it’s a complete waste of time unless you, not Charles Krauthammer, comes through your words. I still think Jonah lost something when he sorta of became “Jonah Inc.” and lost some of the personal touch.

            + Be as light as you can be, as comes natural to you, and as is appropriate to the subject matter. Don’t be a dour sourpuss, even when writing about very serious things. It’s too easy to get into a negative sort of rut. Don’t be a scold. And if you do scold, be clever and humorous about it.

            + Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room. We already know who that is (Glenn Fairman). So that takes the pressure off. Just write to communicate, not to impress (and then you really may impress).

            + Read good writers. It will improve your own writing by osmosis.

            Now, go forth and be bona-fide. That goes for everyone.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I’m curious where you would rate me in terms of these recommendations. I will admit that brevity isn’t always one of my talents (though I can occasionally come up with a short, pithy comment when inspiration strikes).

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I don’t really want to evaluate anyone. I’m just offering general guidelines on how to take casual blogging to the next level – but below the false front and generally baloney journalism/opinionating level of so much of the blogosphere.

                I don’t want people to be dissatisfied with where they are now. I want them to have in the back of their mind the goal of improvement.

                We have the freedom here to be free-form, to think for ourselves (think about how easily a great writer such as Mark Steyn was ousted from NRO for trivialities), and not bend to slavish fashions of pop culture.

                On the other hand, none of us has an editor breathing down our necks, putting pressure on us, and making the minute corrections (or suggestions) that we all need. And it is that kind of pressure/corrections that can work to improve us.

                So I try to make a note from time to time on how to improve one’s writing. It’s apparent that you are all self-motivated, well-read, and fearless. That’s one thing I learned when starting this site. Many people have an opinion. Many can write quite well. But not everyone can put themselves out there on the front lines. You guys (and gals) can.

    • Rosalys says:

      This is indeed a wonderful article and Annie is deserving of her new title. So much to learn on this site.

      Remembering the past, where we came from, how we got here, is so important for any society. It is the very reason for holidays. It was the reason God commanded Israel to celebrate the Passover every year, so that they would not forget God’s deliverance. It is why Christ said at the Last Supper, “As often as you do this, do it in memory of Me.” It is why, (or should be why!) we celebrate the Fourth of July and used to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. GW is a foundational personality of our country, but in remembering his birthday we celebrate more more than the man himself. He represents the sacrifice that all the rag-tag warriors of the War of Independence made to secure our liberties. It has been turned into a travesty celebrating just one office out of three supposedly co-equal branches of government, often held by less than worthy men. I am less disturbed by the commercial aspects of this “holy-day” than I am by the inclusion of the likes of a man such as Barak Hussein Obama!

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Great points, Rosalys.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Note that President’s Day is officially still Washington’s Birthday. The popular name is presumably a reflection of the fact that Lincoln’s birthday (which I recall having as a holiday in school when I was younger, though presumably this varies by state) is also in February (in fact, Cousin Abe had his birthday yesterday — and Elizabeth mentioned it).

        It would also help if people actually called July 4 (which is just the term for a day, used everywhere in the English-speaking world) by the official holiday name, Independence Day.

        • Rosalys says:

          I’m sorry to say that I had to look it up – I just couldn’t take your word for it! I, along with a sizable percentage of the citizenry, believed that the holiday was officially changed to Presidents’ Day. I think in the minds of many it has become that, and the MSM seems to enforce that belief; but it is indeed officially still George Washington’s Birthday; and in a small way I find that comforting. This should teach me to not doubt Timothy!

          About the Fourth of July vs. Independence Day. I think it was fine to use the names interchangeably because they always meant the same thing and everyone knew it. That may not be true any longer and therefore we probably should, and I will try in the future, to use Independence Day.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I can remember same little trick question years ago: Do the British have the Fourth of July? And of course they do, though they certainly don’t celebrate it. That little trick question (and remembering it) helps remind me that the holiday is Independence Day, and that’s what we celebrate.

  6. Anniel says:

    Rosalys and gentlemen – Thank you for reminding us of the importance of naming things correctly in order to remember and to carry those memories forward.

Leave a Reply to Timothy Lane Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *