Friday, 31 August 2012

Part III - Barbarian Culture

This post is part of a series about Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions.

In this, Veblen writes that it is in ‘the higher stages of the barbarian culture’ that one finds the best developed tradition of the leisure class, characterised by rigorously observed distinctions between and within the various classes. He gives examples, eg feudal Europe or Japan amongst others, though his Wikipedia entry says that some of these cultures were fictitious! Let's ignore that for now, because Veblen's theory is nonetheless interesting and, I think, quite applicable.

Veblen says the most striking economic issue in the barbarian class distinctions is about what constitutes 'proper' employment. For example, the upper classes are barred from ‘industrial occupations and are reserved for those few occupations 'to which a degree of honor attaches':  government, warfare, religious observances and sports, but primarily the first three.

“Manual labor, industry, whatever has to do directly with the everyday work of getting a livelihood, is the exclusive occupation of the inferior class. This inferior class includes slaves and other dependents, and ordinarily also all the women. If there are several grades of aristocracy, the women of high rank are commonly exempt from industrial employment, or at least from the more vulgar kinds of manual labor.”

In talking about Nordic and North American hunting tribes, in which the leisure class wasn't yet entirely applicable, the distinction is made between occupations of men and those of women and 'this distinction is of an invidious character'.  In these tribes, the women are by prescriptive custom held to the employments out of which the industrial occupations later develop.  Men are exempt from these 'vulgar employments' and are reserved for war, hunting, sports and devout observances. Although the men's work may contribute as much to the food supply and thus be considered 'productive', the hunter does not see himself at all connected with women's uneventful drudgery.  Rather his work is admirable and full of adventurous exploit.  Thus, the first class distinction was to give women a lower status.

Veblen says for a leisure class to emerge there must be three things in place:  

a) the community must be of a predatory habit of life, eg war and/or the hunting of large game; the men in the undeveloped leisure class must be habituated to inflicting injury by force and strategy;

b) subsistence for the whole of the society must be sufficiently obtainable that a considerable portion of the community can be exempt from steady labor; and

c) there is a growing discrimination between what is considered worthy or unworthy employments.

Unworthy employment includes all those necessary everyday things involving no element of exploit.  When reading this the phrases ‘women’s work’ and 'blue collar vs white collar' jobs came to mind.  Value labels are attached not just to the work, but even to the tools of labour.  It is reserved for a higher class to even handle the accoutrements of war or worship, but the ‘brute materials’ he calls ‘inert’ are left for the women to make useful. 

“Such being the barbarian man's work, in its best development and widest divergence from women's work, any effort that does not involve an assertion of prowess comes be unworthy of the man. As the tradition gains consistency, the common sense of the community makes it into a canon of conduct; so that no employment and no acquisition is morally possible to the self-respecting man at this cultural stage, except as proceeds on the basis of prowess - force or fraud. When the predatory habit of life has been long habituation, it becomes the able-bodied man's accredited office in the social economy to kill, to destroy such competitors in the struggle for existence as attempt to resist or elude him...”

Again, Veblen emphasises that the distinction between exploit and drudgery is an invidous one. Employments without honourable  status, particularly any that imply subservience or submission are unworthy, debasing, ignoble. The concepts of dignity and worth are not just applied to employments, but also to people and to their conduct (Where would we be without books on etiquette? Was your Grandmother as keen as mine to be perceived as 'respectable'?) and as a consequence, we have the development of classes and class distinctions.  This has knock-on effects, in that where (emphasis is mine):
"An invidious comparison of persons is habitually made, visible success becomes an end sought for its own utility as a basis of esteem.  Esteem is gainted and dispraise (criticism) is avoided by putting one's efficiency in evidence.  The result is...and emulative demonstration...Tangible evidences of prowess (trophies) find a place in men's habits of thought as an essential feature of the paraphernalia of life.  Booty, trophies of the chase or raid come to be prized as evidence of pre-eminent force.  Aggression becomes the accredited form of action, and booty serves as prima facie evidence of successful aggretion.  As accepted at this cultural stage, the accredited, worthy form of self-assertion is contest; and useful articles or services obtained by seizure or compulsion, serve as a conventional evidence of successful contest.    

Therefore, obtaining goods by methods other than seizure becomes less worthy. Performance of productive work or employment in personal service becomes odious. Labor becomes irksome because it is now undignified and dishonorable.

Veblen goes on something of a rant about 'honorable' : 
“...primarily honorable is the assertion of the strong hand....The predilection shown in heraldic devices for the more rapacious beasts and birds of prey goes to enforce the same view. Under this common-sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honor, the taking of life — the killing of formidable competitors, whether brute or human — is honorable in the highest degree. And this high office of slaughter, as an expression of the slayer’s prepotence, casts a glamour of worth over every act of slaughter and over all the tools and accessories of the act. “

So, these three posts (Savage CultureVeblen's Definitions and Barbarian Culture) cover the concepts discussed in his introduction, ideas that underpin the other chapters which follow.   In the next chapter, he discusses Pecuniary Emulation.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012


I will apologise in advance that most of my French words and place names will not likely have the appropriate accent marks.  I will make an effort, but I'm not promising anything. 

Source:  Google Maps

We spent our first night at Châlons-en-Champagne.  Champagne-Ardenne is a region of France, one of the administrative 'departments'.   Bill drove for hours through The Netherlands, through Belgium and past Reims.    When I see the name Reims, I think of Joan of Arc, having written about her.  Blogging has blessed me more than I can say.

We didn't see much of Châlons, being tired after the drive.  There's not much to get excited about your average motorhome campground. 

That said, we were very excited about ours. 

Because of the warm, the sun, the gentle breeze. 

Because of wearing shorts and sandals and walking around a pond under a full moon. 

Because of walking to the boulanger-patissier [bread and pastry shop] just around the corner. 

The houses we passed seemed exotically different and in spite of being weary and worn, I began to feel I was actually on holiday.


If it seems to you that I'm all over the place on this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking that (so what else is new?).  There is a plan, however!  If you want to read posts about the book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, visit here on Fridays.  If you are interested in our recent travels in France, pop in on Wednesdays.  On Mondays I hope to blog about the current(ish) events in our real life.  That's the plan, anyhow....

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sunny Day in Tynemouth

The weather this August has been warm for a change!  This includes sunny and bright, dull and humid and horrific rain storms. 

Any excuse to be outdoors!
I'm content so long as I get to wear sandals and leave off the long underwear.

Long Sands Beach


Friday, 24 August 2012

Part II - Veblen's Definitions

This post is part of a (rather ambitious) series on The Theory of the Leisure ClassLast week I outlined Veblen's views on what he called 'savage culture', a concept used to contrast with the barbarian culture he says developed after. 

In describing how the institution of a leisure class came about, he uses words in a way that I initially found difficult.  Even Wikipedia says his writing style is archaic.  If you decide read this book for yourself, and even if you only read my posts,  some of these definitions may help.

The dictionary definition of this adjective refers something living rather than non-living, ie a dog is animate but a car is inanimate. As a verb, animate means to 'impart motion or activity' or 'give life to'. Veblen uses the term in a slightly different way. The term 'animate' in his discussion doesn't mean ‘living’ so much as 'formidable' or 'baffling', not your everyday plants and small animals, but thunderstorms, mighty waterfalls or deadly diseases; the sorts of things almost assigned as having a malevolent will by primitive superstition or pagan lore. I found myself gradually building up a picture of the 'medicine man' or shaman when I re-read those sections. 

I always thought of this term as rather positive, as in when I try to emulate - ie imitate or live up to - some person or some ideal I admire. It does mean this, but it also means to equal or excel. The context in which Veblen uses this word - nearly as often as 'invidious' - makes me think he more often means excel. Think 'Keeping up with the Joneses' and one-upmanship.

Current use of this word is more often as a verb (to exploit), however Veblen's use is as a noun: a bold or daring feat. Think of the big stag slain, the battle won, the risky business coup pulled off.  Think of something after which one can swagger into the pub and brag.

I was thinking of this word a rather positive, respectful way, as in the usual dictionary definition. You may or may not be aware that Honorable (abbrevated Hon.) is also used as a title of respect for certain high government officials; as a courtesy title for the children of barons and viscounts and the younger sons of earls; in the House of Commons as a title of respect when speaking of another member. Veblen explains his interpretation of this word.  For him, honorable is assertion of superior force; formidable; prepotent. An honorific act is a successful act of aggression, meaning conflict with men and beasts. The taking of life is honorable in the highest degree.

"Arms are honorable, and the use of them, even in seeking the life of the meanest creatures of the fields, becomes an honorific employment."
industry / industrial
In popular books and films concerning class divisions there is a great fuss made about whether someone's money comes from 'trade' or 'industry'.  When I initially began reading Veblen, I thought in terms of this or of machinery and factories, but it didn't always make sense.  I went to the dictionary and found the definition that did fit Veblen's initial use:  energetic devotion to a task or an endeavor; diligence.   Veblen says that this sort of work, even the handling of the tools of industry, falls beneath the dignity of able-bodied men in the barbarian culture.  Think 'women's work'.

Veblen uses the term 'inert' as a contrast to animate. Inert things are 'brute materials', everyday commonplace things like fruit or bunny rabbits perhaps. Inert, according to Veblen, describes the sort of phenomenon that doesn't have any mystical or bewildering element, doesn't require strength or cleverness to overcome, things that don't need to be conquered through exploit.

One of Veblen's favourite words, and not initially part of my vocabulary.  Adjective:  1. (of an action or situation) Likely to arouse or incur resentment or anger in others.
2. (of a comparison or distinction) Unfairly discriminating; unjust.  I suppose one could argue that the class system is simply Darwinian, but in Veblen's barbarian culture, the whole point is to make people envy your position, power, possessions, etc.  It's not enough to have these things; others must recognise it and be resentful.

The dictionary defines this as a 'product of effort or skill', which Veblen says this is 'a taste for effective work and a distaste for futile effort, a sense of the merit of serviceability and of the demerit of futility, waste or incapacity.  He imputes this inclination not just to the savage culture, but later in his book he says women have this instinct. 

In my next post on this topic, I will attempt to explain Veblen's introductory material concerning the "barbarian culture".  It is in the highest stage of this culture that one finds the most developed institution of the leisure class.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

La Cabine

OK.  Let's talk about France.  Beryl asked how we got across to the Continent. 

Source:  DFDS

We live within a couple of miles from the ferry crossing between Newcastle (actually at North Shields) and Amsterdam (actually at IJmuiden).

I've written about this before.  As last time Bill was rather seasick, we splashed out (sorry) on an outside cabin with a window, in hopes that it might help a bit.  It may have. 

Then again, perhaps bringing our own room picnic instead of eating at the buffet - and trying to get our money's worth - may also have played a part in the happier morning.

We learned a lot from our previous experience and the roads out of Amsterdam seemed far less intimidating as we headed for Chalons-en-Champagne (click on link for map).

Monday, 20 August 2012

Of Song and Cakes and Local History

Our Women's Institute meeting in August was at the Grand Hotel.   We were sent on a sort of treasure hunt for information to answer a series of quiz questions, which was good exercise if you wore the right shoes for it, which I did not.  Vivien, Lucy and I formed a team.  The quiz focussed on the Olympics and on the history of Tynemouth.  I knew barely anything about the former and less than I thought I did about the latter.  We did not finish in the medals.

I've written about the Grand before, however I hadn't realised before that it belongs to the Duke of Northumberland.  One lives and learns. 

Awarding of the medals.

We met in a room I'd not seen before, though sadly my photos didn't turn out very well.  Grand is the right name for this room, with the huge wardrobes and elegant window dressings. 

The podium, of sorts.

I've not yet forgiven the appalling service the sewing ladies got one Christmas season, but it's still a beautiful building.

I'm going to own this in my next life.

I was away when this WI had their summer fete, but Vivien and Lucy worked the table selling books.  The last meeting I made was the day we returned from visiting Sarah in Edinburgh and so I didn't have time to enter the 'Victoria Sponge' baking contest.  (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.)

I'd never heard of this type of cake before, so I was glad to have an excuse not to bake one...or several, as Lucy did trial runs.  I thought hers was as lovely as any other.  One woman brought the wreckage of her cake, still on the cooling rack.  When asked about this, she said it was evidence of an effort made, but unfortunately she'd had to run to the store to buy jam filling and while she was out, her dog decided to sample the cake. 

The cupcakes were judged by a former home economics teacher from Ashington as being the best, based on appearance and presentation.  She didn't taste them as she was on a diet!  I thought that was hilarious. 

The winner(s).

I also missed out on the meeting where they had singing lessons and were recorded singing the traditional opening song, Jerusalem.  Fortunately we still haven't adopted that custom, as I still don't know the words...I suspect most of this lot don't. 

Our next meeting is about jam making.  Not sure if that means I should be making some, or if I'm just going to learn how...I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Part I - Savage Culture

I'm going to do my best to share some of the interesting parts of Thorstein Veblen's book, The Theory of the Leisure Class:  An Economic Study of Institutions

Though I'm interested in economics, I can't pretend to know much about the subject.  I tended to read Veblen's book more as pertaining to social history and it was fascinating.  I hope to convey some of his observations with a slightly simpler style of writing than his.   That said, some of his ideas are best stated in his own unique words.

Veblen begins by saying that the best-developed tradition of having a leisure class is at what he calls the higher stages of the barbarian culture.   He refers to a previously existing 'savage' stage of culture which was more peaceful and less materialistic, characterised less by private ownership and more communal use of property; also in which there was not such a fine distinction in who did what work.  Other characteristics of the savage culture are that they are more dutiful toward the survival of the group, a feature Veblen labels 'workmanship' and they they have an 'amiable inefficiency when faced with force or fraud.'  The savage culture is used as a contrast to the barbarian; the key feature of 'barbarian culture' is that it is hierarchical and war-like.

Veblen says that in the savage community, 'workmanship' is aimed at the well-being of the society, a sort of social conscience or need to be useful. When the society becomes predatory, this all changes.

In my next post on this topic, I will talk about some of Veblen's favourite terms, words that he used with different meanings than I usually understand them to have.

Part II - Veblen's Definitions

Part III - Barbarian Culture

Part IV - Leisure Class and Ownership

Part V - Invidious Distinction and Self Esteem

Part VI - How much is Enough?

Part VII - Leisure vs Labor

Part VIII - Leisurely Occupations

Part IX - The Importance of Good Manners

Part X - On Bearing

Part XI - On Wives and Servants

Part XII - Vicarious Leisure

Part XIII - Domestic Servants and 'Modern' Life

Part XIV - Unproductive Consumption

Part XV - The Purpose of Parties

Part XVI - The Purpose of Uniforms

Part XVII - The Middle Class Wife

Part XVIII - Conspicuous Consumption

Part XIX - The Good That Comes of Gossip

Part XX - Conspicuous Waste vs Workmanship

Part XXI - Aping the Upper Class

Part XXII - Instinct, Industry and Privacy

Part XXIII - Birth, Waste and Academia

Part XXIV - Honour of Thieves

Part XXV - Devotional Fitness

Part XXVI - Perception of Beauty

Part XXVII - Beautiful Animals and Women

Part XXVIII - On Candlelight, Classicism and Curiosity

Part XXIX -  Conspicuosity of Dress

Part XXX - More Conspicuosity of Clothing

Part XXXI - Conspicuous Novelty

Part XXXII - Leisure Class and Conservatism

Part XXXIII - The Vulgarity of Innovation

Part XXXIV - The Lower Class and Conservatism

Part XXXV - Business and the Leisure Class 

Part XXXVI - About Blondes 

Part XXXVII - The Diligence Dichotomy 

Part XXXVIII - Modern Economic Institutions

Part XXXIX - War and the Leisure Class

Part XL - Duels and the Leisure Class

Part XLI - Sport and Slang

Part XLII - Walking Sticks

Part XLIII - The Belief in Luck

Part XLIV - Relating to Religion

Part XLV - Gambling, Sports and Religion

Part XLVI - A Different Twist on Holidays

Part XLVII - Religion and the Military

Part XLVIII - The End of Religion

Part XLIX - A Kinder Society

Part L - 'Assisting' the Lower Classes

Part LI - Emancipation from Privilege and Futility

Part LII - Decline of the Leisure Class

Part LIII - Higher Education and the Occult

Part LIV - Rituals, War and Women

Part LV - Classicism and Conservatism in Higher Education

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Mom's Birthday has recently released the 1940 Census, which is finally all indexed.  I found Mom and Grandmother living in Miami, Florida in 1940!

They live with a lady I've not heard of, named Dorothy, who works as a waitress.  Funny enough she's listed as a 'wife' rather than a 'head' of the household, but I can't find a previous page that lists a head of household. 

Mom was working as a cashier in a Beauty Supply shop.  She's listed as a daughter, though it's not clear of whom.  Good job I already know that part.  Grandmother was neither working nor seeking work.  She, too, is listed as a wife, which is correct.  I know she married her second husband in 1939.  My guess is that Larry is stationed at a Naval base somewhere near there.  Perhaps Dorothy's husband is as well?

Mom was born in Lehigh Oklahoma, but later lived with her maternal grandmother in West Monroe, Louisiana.  After that she was with her mother in Shreveport, and now in Miami.  I had heard about this, so it's not a complete surprise.  But it does go a long way to explain why Mom's Southern accent was always softer and sweeter than my Oklahoma twang.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Seaton Delaval Hall

One day in June, I was treated with a free pass to see Seaton Delaval Hall, only acquired by the National Trust in 2009.    My friend Vivien is a member of this organisation and also an avid coupon clipper, so when she found a free pass she offered it up as an idea for a day out.  I've run past Delaval Hall many times and meant to see it ages ago, though Vivien has been before. 

The front of the main hall (but you approach and enter at the back).

We approached the hall from the meadows at the back (which is actually the front of the building).  In between admiring the variety of flowering grasses, stone walls overlooking a horse pasture and some beehives we caught glimpses of this lady in costume. 

We were to encounter her and her husband, also in period costume, several times during our visit; both were keen to share their knowledge of the house and its history.

The Parterre.

The Delaval family came over with William the Conquerer and this, and several other parcels of land, was their reward for their support at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. 

The hall from the parterre.

They were originally de Laval, a town in France.   According to Wikipedia, the name has died out and been revived a number of times, it being a desirable one by nature of sounding so French (Britain and France do seem have a strange sort of love-hate relationship). 

The Rose Garden & Box Hedge

The English Delavals over the years apparently weren't great with money and so when bankrupt sold the estate to a wealthy cousin, Admiral George Delaval in the early 1700s. 

Admiral George Delaval commissioned the hall to be built by Sir John Vanbrugh, the most famous architect of the day, whose other major commissions include Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard

The front back of the hall (with the ghost in the window to the
left of the centre fan-shaped window).

The style is described as English Baroque. 

The ghost, a lovelorn housemaid, or a play of light on the old window glass.

Though we spent the better part of the day there we only saw a portion of the place, which having linked to Vanbrugh's other works seems rather cozy and sedate in comparison, though it is quite impressive.  Neither Delaval nor Vanbrugh lived to see the Hall's completion. 

I couldn't resist the beauty of this stairwell, though nearer the top you can see evidence of the 1822 fire.

The house passed to a nephew (Captain Francis Blake who added the name Delaval), then to his son and then to a brother.  The family of Captain - later Sir - Francis Blake Delaval and his elder son  (who died aged 44 having lived life to the full) were famous for their parties and scandalous behavior, particularly their awful practical jokes.  They sound quite foolish altogether, but fortunately the next two sons John and Thomas were of a more serious sort.   

The hall is flanked on both sides by wings, one for people, one for horses.

John Delaval, the first Baron Delaval was a man with a head for business. He and his brother Thomas developed the local resources of coal, salt and glass and built a harber at Seaton Sluice. 

The hall overlooks the North Sea in the distance.

He and Thomas fell out later and in any case, Thomas pre-deceased Sir John. The Hall was left to the only surviving brother Edward, a noted scientist who died without issue. 

The stables, built in 1768, were modelled on those of Hopetoun House in Scotland.

The Hall then passed to the Astleys, the eldest child of Captain Francis Blake, Rhoda, having married Sir Edward Astley from Melton Constable Hall, in North Norfolk.  Which, by the way, explains why there is a pub in Seaton Sluice called the Melton Constable; nothing to do with the police at all.

Home of Regulus.
There was a serious fire at the Hall in 1822, after which Sir Edward's grandson, Sir Jacob Astley declined to do repairs for the next forty years.  He did, however, revive the Hastings title (created three times) and so became the 16th Baron Hastings.   And so on and so forth until we come to Edward Astley, 22nd Baron Hastings (1912-2007), who took an interest in and spent 51 years renovating Seaton Delaval Hall.

The orangery and the lilly pond.

Which went to Delaval Astley, 23rd Baron Hastings (b. 1960), a farmer, businessman...and actor...who sold the place to the National Trust in preference to say, turning it into expensive flats.  Thank you, Lord Hastings!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Edinburgh Weekend - Part II

I had long wanted to visit thrift shops in Edinburgh, particularly in Morningside, a district that Bill seemed to think would have rich pickings.  Sarah also highly recommended Stockbridge and had sent me a booklet published by some organisation with a map of charity shops.  Stockbridge being not far, this is where the four of us headed after leaving The Georgian House. 

On our way to the charity shops, we happened onto a little market, which was fun to browse. 

I saw one guy's stand selling rapeseed oil, saying it was actually healthier than olive oil. I've done a bit of reading and turns out instead of calling it 'grapeseed' in the US, it's now called canola and cold pressed canola is the hottest new thing. 

Personally, I don't stress over this stuff. I've been buying vegetable oil (100% rapeseed) for several years now, finding it at about £1 a litre. I also get olive oil, but save it for salads or couscous. I didn't check the guy's stand out; I assumed his prices would be higher than my supermarket. Other things on offer were bread, meat, pies, music, fish and wild game. It was a fun place.

There were, indeed, a load of charity shops in Stockbridge.  A few looked quite upscale, with all matching wooden hangers and fresh decor.  Another had books in their window display all with 'fashionista' in the title, or something about clothes, which I thought clever.  At the second or third shop I found myself standing next to Johnny, Sarah's boyfriend.  It seemed the right time to give him a sincere apology that he'd got swept up into this thrifting thing; I know most men hate to shop.  He just smiled and said while he'd formerly been in that camp, he was now a convert, having found some nice dress shirts in a charity shop.  He said he thought it was fun.  So, while I won't say he quite walks on water, he was easy to like. 

I bought a small ceramic cachepot.  I think I called it a 'clochepot' at the time, but that was wrong.  Bill, having got so much pleasure from a cream coloured jacket thrifted several years earlier, was seeking a replacement.  He bought one, but I'm not a fan of pointy revers and top-stitching; I can see the attractions of the pink, white and grey stripped silk lining though.  (He's just gone out the door wearing it).

Bill and I were staying at a B&B in a large Georgian house near Sarah's flat, which she shares with a roommate who was already in the flat, but is not the owner. 

Renting rooms in houses and flats in Britain is done differently to how I've ever seen in the US.  I never shared a house with anyone I didn't know well, until coming to Britain. 

People here do it all the time.  Sarah's new flat is lovely and modern and nearer to her work, so she's well pleased with it.  Our B&B had an amazing back garden and I could spy down on neighbouring gardens as well. 

I admit to being nosy, though I prefer to label it 'taking an interest'; I share these photos just in case you, too, like to take an interest.

The next day we drove down to Morningside, as it was on our way home. 

I think I bought a velvet scarf, in a red 1960's print, but that might be about it. 

Bill ran short of enthusiasm about half way through and given what I know now, I'd stick with Stockbridge if I had limited time. 

Wild lupin on the highway.

All in all, it was a great weekend.   It was lovely to catch up with Sarah and see her enjoying her life.  I feel lucky to live reasonably near to Edinburgh and I'm sure we will look forward to our next visit.