Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


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Book: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
Author: Robert Tressell
Published: 1955

The past comments on our present.

It may be objected that, considering the number of books dealing with these subjects already existing, such a work as this was uncalled for. The answer is that not only are the majority of people opposed to Socialism, but a very brief conversation with an average anti-socialist is sufficient to show that he does not know what Socialism means. – Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

I worked at Starbucks in the late 90’s. Memorable patrons abounded; I served as caffeine bartender to many jittery addicts. I continue to count myself among them. Socialist Rick was among a colorful list that included Iced Venti Americano Rick and Double Tall Latte Patti.
Rick came in most afternoons and stayed for an hour or two. He was polite, and his drip coffee couldn’t have been easier to prepare. Unlike Grande 2 pump Sugar Free Vanilla Skim Extra Hot Latte Hair Plugs for Men, his drink never seemed to be right. It was always one of the following: too hot, not hot enough, not enough vanilla, too much vanilla, or was more generally bad. He would bark this at me after having flung the lid off his 220 degree latte and taken two impossibly huge gulps of it. It’s a wonder the interior of his mouth had sensations at all given that it must be dead scar tissue in there. After bad drink number 50, I started keeping his drink behind the bar and offered him a baristas choice on his first go. I was vaguely gratified when one morning my choice happened to be a cast off Americano. Those are blistering hot due to the fact that they are comprised of espresso shots and 280 degree filtered water. His eyes watered just a bit when he took his pulls. I wasn’t sorry. He returned his drink less often after that.

In comparison, Rick was an easy customer. Overbearing isn’t an accurate word to describe Rick. My coworkers, already familiar with him, warned me of his fringe beliefs. But a coherent picture of Rick’s views didn’t develop until I had poured him at least thirty cups of coffee across weeks. My coworkers’ warnings looked to be unwarranted, as Rick wasn’t over-eager to discuss his views, but he certainly wouldn’t hold back should discussion wander into economics or politics.

Hindsight demonstrates that I was responding to Rick with indoctrination from history class and our capitalist culture. Going to a conservative Christian school, we were told ghoulish stories of all the martyrs sacrificed to the steely god of socialism. Innocent Russian boys and girls were thrown into the gaping maw of atheism only to be rended limb from limb by satan in the afterlife. (I realize that The USSR was a communist country, but communism and socialist were both painted with the same sloppy brush, so I didn’t perceive a difference between the two.) You should think I use hyperbole, but I don’t. I was raised to be terrified of socialism.

Terrified, I was. When my coworkers told me that Rick was a socialist; they might as well said that we molested children. I coolly responded to Rick’s polite small talk. You can’t let your gaurd down when something so sinister approaches.

Across weeks of interaction, I started to relax. Rick was pleasant. He treated us like people. For those that haven’t worked in the service industry, it’s not uncommon for people to bark orders at you and wholly ignore you otherwise. The most common response to good morning or how are you was GRANDE LOW FAT LATTE with no eye contact or any other non-verbal acknowledgement. This was the case prior to smart phones. I can only imagine that this behavior grows more frequent with each passing day.

This is when the cognative dissonance started. Rick was pleasant and warm. Our interactions only occasionally touched on politics or economics, but when they did he said reasonable things. How can a socialist be kind and say sensible things while simultaneously being Satan’s child molester in chief? HOW?

I opted for the intellectually lazy path forward. I put Rick in the crazy box in my head, and responded to him as such regardless of his kind behavior and reasonable criticisms of the capitalist system. Occasionally, he would say something that would break out of the crazy box. But my discomfort at questioning my indoctrination, caused me to quickly push this away.

I have regrets. I regret that I closed myself off to Rick. Mostly because in the intervening decade I have become disillusioned with the glories of capitalism. I have come to believe that an egalitarian society needs labor to be valued more than capital. And it’s mystifying that of the seventy bucks that are spent on GAP jeans only pennies go to the Vietnamese laborers who made them. WHERE THE HELL DOES THE OTHER $69.96 GO? And more importantly, why does this arrangement make sense?

The Ragged Trousered Philantropists is a socialism text book masquerading as a novel. Typically I am annoyed with this dress-up game, but I appreciate that this book provided the most thorough argument for socialism I have ever read. I bet my indoctrination regarding socialism is representative of most Americans’ indoctrination, mostly lies sprinkled with threats of ruthless dictators. Which is to say that Americans don’t actually know what socialism is. The way the word was bandied about in the last presidential election cycle supports my point.

At other times the meeting resolved itself into a number of quarrelsome disputes between the Liberals and Tories that formed the crowd, which split itself up into a lot of little groups and whatever the original subject might have been they soon drifted to a hundred other things, for most of the supporters of the present system semed incapable of pursuing any one subject to its logical conclusion. A discussion would be started about something or other; presently an unimportant side issue would crop up, then the original subject would be left unfinished, and they would argue and shout about the side issue. In a little while another side issue would arise, and then the first side issue would be abandoned also unfinished, and an angry wrangle about the second issue would ensue, the original subject being altogether forgotten.

They did not seem to really desire to discover the truth or to find out the best way to bring about and improvement in their condition, their only object seemed to me to score off their opponents. – Robert Tressell, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

I won’t be waving the socialist flag just yet. But this book was excellent. There are valid criticisms of how we choose to organize ourselves economically. And if the data is right, and we are headed into another guilded age, shit is only starting to hit the fan.

Here’s where I am in my list.
Reading Now
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Books that have been read
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.

Pending reading:
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

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