Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Case for Ebenezer
December 25, 2011 4:35 PM   Subscribe

"Had the spirits been truly desirous of helping the Cratchett family, they would have been better advised to focus their time and energies upon this family rather than upon my client." The Case for Ebenezer by Butler Shaffer
posted by chronkite (51 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, this was inevitable.

Just surprised it wasn't a Fox Business Channel Christmas Special. Probably next year.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:00 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Executive summary: a libertarian lawyer laments that A Christmas Carol wasn't Atlas Shrugged. I thought maybe this was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but I've found indications that he really thinks like this.

(In discussing this, keep in mind that it was written in 2004, when the context for discussing financiers was rather different from what it is now.)
posted by Kalthare at 5:08 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I got to the part where he was wondering why Bob Cratchett didn't just quit his job for something better and decided it wasn't worth my time to read.
posted by codacorolla at 5:12 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is the guy (Lew Rockwell) that most likely wrote all the racist shit in Ron Paul's newsletters, fyi.
posted by empath at 5:14 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I got to the part where he was wondering why Bob Cratchett didn't just quit his job for something better and decided it wasn't worth my time to read.

Yeah, that's about where I got.
posted by kafziel at 5:19 PM on December 25, 2011


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by delfin at 5:20 PM on December 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


At some point, we need to show some appropriate respect for the forces of natural selection that have long directed the life process.

I thought this social-Darwinism nonsense was thoroughly discredited a long time ago. Very sad.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:32 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Rockwell needs a visit from the ghost of Christmas shut the fuck up before the ghost of my workboots past make a high speed visit to his posterior. First I'm going to have anothe glass of yummy eggnog....burp...
posted by humanfont at 5:37 PM on December 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


So hey, how about a counterpoint? Fred Clark talked about Ebenezer Scrooge recently.
A great many of Dickens’ stories begin the way this one does, with the heartless rich man spreading all sorts of misery. And a great many of his stories end the way this one does, with the good-hearted rich man swooping in as a deus ex machina to make everything right again. The magical thing about A Christmas Carol is that in this story, they’re the same person.
posted by Kalthare at 5:37 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Just to make things clear: it's Lew Rockwell's site, but the article is by Butler Shaffer.
posted by Kalthare at 5:40 PM on December 25, 2011


Fine Butler Shaffer yada yada yada workboots past etc, etc. Never mind the moment has passed. Time for pie.
posted by humanfont at 5:51 PM on December 25, 2011


The man seems to have made a...creative reading of Christmas Carol. I don't recall Bob Crachett to have behaved this way:
But how much parental love and responsibility is exhibited by the sniveling and whining Bob Cratchett, who does little more than sit around and hope, . . . hope that someone will show up with more ambition and sense of urgency and caring for Tiny Tim than do he and his deeply lobotomized family. What if your child was drowning in a lake: would you just stand on the shore and hope that a Boy Scout would show up looking for a daily "good deed" to perform? What if you came upon a school building that was afire and full of trapped, screaming children. Would you just stand there and watch and wonder to yourself: "why doesn’t someone sound the fire alarm or try to rescue those poor children?" Such would have been the response of Bob Cratchett; such is the model of individual responsibility offered up to us by Charles Dickens!
"sit around and hope"? What? Bob Crachett was working his ass off FOR Scrooge, how is that "sitting around"? How is that not ACTING on behalf of your family?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 PM on December 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


I can't wait until this schmuck gets around to A Tale of Two Cities.
posted by R. Schlock at 5:56 PM on December 25, 2011


I can't wait until this schmuck gets around to A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the best of times. I mean, everything was great back then. Seriously. ;)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:01 PM on December 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


Oh man, is this the part where we have to remind people that if it weren't for labor and the general socialist leanings of the early 20th century, half of the population would be malnourished, living in slums, and living on a dollar a day?
posted by Deathalicious at 6:08 PM on December 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Bootstraps! Ya'll need more bootstraps!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:17 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought this was going to be a link to this 1998 article at Libertarian Central. Things were pretty great back then, too.
posted by sneebler at 6:17 PM on December 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


So libertarians are all about Ebenezer Scrooge before he was taught a lesson about being nice?

Those. People.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:19 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seriously, Scrooge was Horatio Alger's secret identity.
posted by sneebler at 6:19 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


half of the population would be malnourished, living in slums, and living on a dollar a day?

Don't forget the weekend!
posted by jessamyn at 6:27 PM on December 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


As part of a settlement offer, my client would consider adopting Tiny Tim – should his parents agree – and cut loose the rest of the Cratchett family to continue their mindless, unfocused, dispirited, and passive bottom-feeding in the shallow and stagnant end of the human gene pool.

Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?

Maybe it's the Jameson talking, but seriously, this guy can hunker down and suck my Dickens.
posted by jquinby at 6:36 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, so this wasn't satire?
posted by hellojed at 6:37 PM on December 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's a part in Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer" that would make a fitting end to these self satisfied so and sos.
posted by Trochanter at 6:39 PM on December 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I lied, I decided to read more. It's unconsciously masterful how well he proves the point that Dickens set out to make. The article that Kalthare posted is very worth reading. Shaffer puts the miser in miserable.
posted by codacorolla at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2011


I'm so glad I read these comments so I knew not to read this, btw! I'm much happier reading "Why Cats Paint".
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Suddenly Last Summer"

tl;dr: they eat him
posted by Trochanter at 6:43 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh man, is this the part where we have to remind people that if it weren't for labor and the general socialist leanings of the early 20th century, half of the population would be malnourished, living in slums, and living on a dollar a day?

Or, as libertarians call it, utopia.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:48 PM on December 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


So hey, how about a counterpoint? Fred Clark talked about Ebenezer Scrooge recently.

Matt Taibbi also talked about the Bloomberg article which Clark mentions: A Christmas Message From America's Rich
posted by homunculus at 7:02 PM on December 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I write a counter-article that comes to the defense of Bowser in Super Mario as a rugged industrialist who brought jobs and factories to the mushroom kingdom, only to be thwarted by a psychotic terrorist who is reacting disproportionately to aggravated kidnapping.
posted by hellojed at 7:06 PM on December 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


Guys, I don't know about you but I miss phossy jaw. Fuck government regulations.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:17 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Man, that was a horrible, overwrought article from 2004 ... from lewrockwell.com.

I know it's Christmas, but get the fuck out.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:30 PM on December 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Redemption is for socialists.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 PM on December 25, 2011


Aside from the bizarre reading of the Spirits (who aren't omnipotent and can't do anything for Tiny Tim), Bob Cratchett's personality, and Bob's likely career prospects & opportunities for advancement beyond lowly clerk in early Victorian England (for starters, he's going to need capital in order to get much further--this is Herbert Pocket's problem in Great Expectations), Shaffer seems to assume that he and Dickens share a definition of "wealth": how much money do I have? In fact, Dickens is working with the definition that Thomas Carlyle would make explicit in Past and Present, a few years later: what do I do with my money? Reading this as "socialist" is pretty hilarious, as Dickens had zero objections to people getting/being rich (he quite liked having cash himself, as it happens); he objects to the pure love of money (and/or conspicuous consumption) without any corresponding reinvestment in the community. As it happens, he quite likes capitalists--the ironmaster in Bleak House, for example, or Daniel Doyce in Little Dorrit--precisely because they enrich the community by providing jobs and treating the workers fairly. Scrooge's money neither makes him comfortable (always a bad sign in Dickens and many other novelists) nor helps anyone else. If anything, this is skating pretty close to the paternalist streak in Victorian social thought.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:51 PM on December 25, 2011 [22 favorites]


Er, Bob Cratchit.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:52 PM on December 25, 2011


The Case for Ebenezer

I'll need a guinea to keep me mouth shut.
posted by Twang at 8:43 PM on December 25, 2011


"Everything Is Worse With Libertarians" ™
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:58 PM on December 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Libertarianism: Because there is no point we are incapable of missing.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:35 PM on December 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I prefer Troy McClure's "Suddenly Last Supper," personally. Although, I suppose that could be a quick description of the fate of poor Sebastian in the original.

I wish these jerkoffs would take off and attempt to build a new great society elsewhere; we'd be fine without them and maybe they'd get closer to plasmids and such.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:13 PM on December 25, 2011


The lesson I learned from Ten Days in a Mad-House was that they are far too generous to those layabouts. Merry Christmas! I hope you earned those gifts.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:01 PM on December 25, 2011


thomas j wise: very nice summary - it's like Dickens was channelling Matt Taibbi in the linked Rolling Stone article.
posted by sneebler at 7:44 AM on December 26, 2011


thomas j wise: "Dickens had zero objections to people getting/being rich (he quite liked having cash himself, as it happens)"

Ever since I read Orwell's review of Dickens I've never been able to look at any of Dickens's books in quite the same way.
posted by vanar sena at 8:43 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ditto to all: I was about to link to it - I do like revisionist interpretations of classics - then realised it was a libertarian apologia.

Good pastiche needs to be sympathetic to the original; this isn't, and even in a fictional vehicle, its sod-you attitude to the social and personal circumstances that did, and still do, trap people in low-paid dead-end jobs with unpleasant employers was pretty revolting.

I recommend instead: Matt McHugh's short story Scrooge & Cratchit, which looks at the likely financial repercussions of Scrooge's repentance; and Louis Bayard's novel Mr Timothy (see review), whose hero is Tim Cratchit, trying to escape the role of "Tiny Tim" that Scrooge's benevolence has trapped him in.
posted by raygirvan at 8:51 AM on December 26, 2011


Not for nothing, but Orson Welles' radio version of "A Christmas Carol" is top notch.
posted by gjc at 8:56 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh. I see now. Cratchett's problem is that he's lazy and chose to have a huge family 3-4 generations before the existence of adequate birth control.

If anything, Scrooge, and by extension, A Christmas Carol, is evidence that objectivism is forever doomed to failure. Don't forget that a major part of Rand's philosophy is that the wealthy will provide to the masses out of a responsibility to the society that made them rich. Or perhaps guilt.

The objectivism in practice today is only half that. They make the money without giving any back, believing that the pennies they spend is creates some kind of low-income utopia.

What motivates Scrooge is the important part of that story for me. He would like to rekindle feelings from the past, and he would like to be remembered well, and he's terrified of Hell. Which is a valid reason for the change, but still makes me suspicious of the character, I mean, an alternative would have been to have a good time and love others, but that's not why he changes.
posted by CarlRossi at 9:48 AM on December 26, 2011


In general, literary criticism that contains numerous misspellings of a central character's name (Bob Cratchit!) makes me think that the person writing said criticism hasn't actually read the work in question either recently or ever.

I base this assumption both on my experience as a teacher of college English courses, and of course on the episode of "Leave It to Beaver" where The Beav writes his composition about The Three Musketeers based on the Ritz Brothers movie rather than the book by Dumas. Mrs. Rayburn twigs to his scam when he talks about the part where Porthos hits Aramis with a rubber chicken...

Libertarians and facts! One day they will be united, but until then we must all pray for their reconciliation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 AM on December 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


What motivates Scrooge is the important part of that story for me. He would like to rekindle feelings from the past, and he would like to be remembered well, and he's terrified of Hell. Which is a valid reason for the change, but still makes me suspicious of the character, I mean, an alternative would have been to have a good time and love others, but that's not why he changes.

I think you're misreading the story here. One thing I like about the story is that Scrooge is a character, not just a caricature. He's not just some evil old rich bastard. We learn that he is the way he is because all his life he's been lonely and isolated. First as a boy at school, then by losing the sister he loved most in the world. He came to believe that the world was harsh and cruel and that a man has to be harsh and cruel in response to survive and thrive.

The point of the ghosts was to show him that his response is wrong. First, that he was once not that way and was fine. Second, because there are many people today who know hardship and sorrow and yet are still kind and happy. Finally, because his way ultimate leads to nothing but even more isolation and sorrow.

I don't think he changed because he was afraid of Hell or he wanted to be remembered well or that he just wanted to feel like he used to. I think he was shown that the best response to a harsh world is kindness to others, and that this brings joy to your life.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:25 AM on December 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


numerous misspellings I know you mean him, but I did it as well. I'll own that. I haven't read it in a very long time, and have read many books since then. My mistake was believing that I could copy just one word from that guy's article. Whoops.

I think you're misreading the story here. Fair enough. Perhaps both points show the book's worth a re-read. What am I saying, it's worth a re-read anyway. But maybe in June, far from December...
posted by CarlRossi at 10:46 AM on December 26, 2011


His case comes down to just two points: [1] my client has managed to become very rich, and, [2] he insists on keeping his money for himself. That’s it! That is the essence of his alleged wrongdoing.

Wrong. Scrooge hurts the Cratchits, and his former fiancee, but his main victim is himself. It is his spiritual welfare with which Marley and the spirits are concerned: his inability to forgive his nephew for being the cause of his sister's death, his estrangement from his father, his betrayal of friends in the course of his business career, his lack of grief over Marley's death, etcetera. It is his failure to connect with mankind that is both his situation and his punishment. Marley is granted a special dispensation to warn Scrooge of his eventual fate, which is to be impotent in the face of human suffering while being forced to witness it (the crowds of ghosts howling outside his window while a woman with a baby sits homeless in the snow). They did not intervene in life, and they are now forced to be powerless in death. The money is really just a sideshow, a plot mechanism; Scrooge does nothing with it. He lives in an empty house, he starves himself, he is as poverty stricken in his life as the Cratchits are rich with love. The actual redemption for Scrooge is to eventually create bonds with the people in his life-- to forgive his nephew, ask his nephew's wife for forgiveness, to become a decent employer, to live in the present rather than being stunted by his anger over the past. He doesn't just hoard his money; he hoards his humanity, until the pain of being alone is greater than the pain of human contact.

So, yeah, this article is completely wrong not just in its content but in its premise, as well. (This is as far as I could be bothered to read, I'm afraid.)
posted by jokeefe at 11:31 AM on December 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Has he analysed "It's a Wonderful Life", and the role of one "Harry Potter" therein?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:31 PM on December 26, 2011


I don't think he changed because he was afraid of Hell

He wasn't even condemned to Hell in the fire and brimstone sense- he was being menaced by a physical reminder of his wealth and the ability to have the omniscience of every other spirit. Dickens was very clear the sum total torment was the ability to be fully aware of the past, present and future and to be able to do nothing about it- the doomed dead described in the novel were seen moaning over live humans in suffering. Nobody was jabbing their asses with the proverbial pitch fork, they were wandering around going: "Augh! A woman freezing to death in the gutter! If only I were still corporeal! All these trappings of my status and power encumber my spirit because in life I was able to ignore all these poor and miserable folk!"

But as others pointed out, Scrooges redemption is about himself and about being loved. Helping Tiny Tim not die is not about making donations to the children's hospital, it's that he can use his agency to go out among the world of men and enjoy being a second father to someone.

The book puts an immense amount of effort into expressing all the carnal and physical pleasures his monkish self denial cost him- it's implied Scrooge is a virgin, he lives miserably on porridge and tavern food without even the spectacle of silly games for one night a year with family.

Poor people, such as the char woman who helps herself to his bed curtains while Scrooge lies dead on the bed, are just as capable of being grasping misers as men like Scrooge, whose hard work earned them things.
posted by Phalene at 1:24 PM on December 26, 2011


It is instructive that Dickens tells us virtually nothing about the nature of Ebenezer’s business.

"Business! Mankind was my business."
posted by Snyder at 12:50 AM on December 28, 2011


« Older Today, Christmas day, is the 103rd anniversary of ...  |  SEED.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments