The Corner

The Great Reductionist

Bertrand Russell, who was hard up at this point in his life and writing for money, was just “making license plates” (as we Neal Stephenson fans say) in that In Praise of Idleness piece  I linked to earlier.  The clever (yes, yes, too clever) reductionism of the argument, though, reminds me why I found Russell so irresistible back in my salad days.  Savor this:

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.


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