Carlin is in my all time top 5 comedians.
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Do you read autobiographies? I read a lot of books, but autobiographies is not a genre that has attracted me much for most of my life. At a certain stage of his life, my dad  read and recommended autobiographies to me . I remember one. It was the autobiography of actor Dirk Bogarde (maybe A Postillion Struck by Lightning). I enjoyed it, although I found parts  slightly depressing. I also recall Bogarde describing his fear or abhorrence of women’s “broodiness”. He had a horror of their “broody” look. And then he met a wonderful girl who seemed different from the others, and he enjoyed a great time with her… until one day, he spotted the broody look, and that did it for him. I was still quite young when I read this, and I remember going around for weeks afterwards wondering what that “broody” look was and how could I recognize it and was it so terrible?

Well, I must be about the age my dad was when he was interested in autobiographies, because surfing the web today, I came across and was entranced by a series of interviews with the late George Carlin. This is basically Carlin’s autobiography online, in video, for free. If you’re expecting a barrel of laughs, look elsewhere (there are plenty on YouTube).  There are some gags, but only to illustrate his narrative – usually to explain why he got fired. This is straight Carlin just  telling the story of his life. What comes across is the amazing and beautiful arc of a single human life: the distance travelled, the influences, the vicissitudes, the amazing coincidences, the determination and how that affected events. I’ve only watched part 1 so far (see UPDATE below), so I can’t identify any particular lessons that resonate (although Carlin is at one point asked what lesson he would pass on to new comedians, and he answers “write everything down”, all the possible material, and categorize it).

Each of the 7 YouTube sections is a highly satisfying length: the first one is 25 minutes or so, part 2 is almost an hour. If you enjoy George Carlin’s comedy and also enjoy biographies, then you may well enjoy this.

UPDATE: I’m up to Part 5. Around the 20-minute mark, he is talking about his “environmentalist” skit – “the planet is fine, it’s the humans who are screwed”. He explains his thinking: that it’s the height of arrogance to think that a) it’s the planet that is in trouble, and b) that we humans CAN save the planet, when we cannot even take care of ourselves. This segues into his philosophy of life, a philosophy that developed out of his character and his observations. He seems to have achieved a Zen-like detachment.

There was an age of dinosaurs, now it’s the age of the primates, maybe there’ll be an age of insects next. It’s not up to us…. The planet will heal coz that’s what it does…’We have to save the planet by not putting diapers in the landfill’. That doesn’t do anything, that’s too short-sighted. You have to change yourself, and we’ll never do that… Everyone wants a dollar and a toy… Everyone’s got a cellphone that’ll make pancakes and rub their balls, and nobody wants to change. We’re in a nice downward glide… I call it “circling the drain”… [It doesn’t depress him] because I gave up on my species, and I gave up on my fellow Americans.. I think we squandered the great gifts. Humans were given great, great gifts: walking upright, binocular vision, opposable thumbs, large brain, making tools…. We gave it up to both God and Mammon, both! … We gave it all up to primitive superstition… primitive shit, and that kind of shit is very limiting for this brain we have… and we want gold and gizmos… and all that shit is nothing… And Americans, who also had great gifts… democratic rule, self-government… ok they started off on the wrong foot… Fine. But the ideas were good… We blew that, we polluted it… I’m divorced from it now. I see it from a distance…. When you’re born in this world, you’re given a ticket to the freak show, and when you’re born in America, you get a front-row seat. And some of us get to sit there with notebooks. I’m a notebook guy…. I’m not different, I’m just apart now, I took myself out of the mix, I don’t have a stake in the outcome.”

Long ago, I met a geology student who shared a similar wisdom: “we can’t destroy the planet. A nuclear holocaust? The planet will just wait a few million years and then start all over again.”

Jesus spoke of being “in the world, but not of it.”

I was also reminded of a famous article by the libertarian thinker and writer Albert J Nock, called Isaiah’s Job, which you can read for free on the excellent Lew Rockwell website (click on the link). There’s a similar love of language and a similar mastery of rhetoric and style, tho some might object to the comparison, claiming that Nock’s style is far superior, although I think we must allow for the fact that Nock wrote while Carlin spoke (tho Carlin wrote his material, of course, but the purpose was oral delivery. How’s that for a long, convoluted sentence.) There is also a similarly caustic wit and an appreciation of the folly and absurdity of human nature, as well as respect for humanity’s virtuous examples, few though Nock and Carlin consider them to be.

Now here’s where it differs from Carlin’s view (although perhaps Carlin was edging his way in this direction, I don’t know), and here’s the part that caught my attention.

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job – in fact, he had asked for it – but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so – if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start – was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

Nock defines his terms.

What do we mean by the masses, and what by the Remnant?
As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, labouring people, proletarians, and it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either. The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass-man – be he high or be he lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper – gets off very badly….

This view of the masses is the one that we find prevailing at large among the ancient authorities whose writings have come down to us. In the eighteenth century, however, certain European philosophers spread the notion that the mass-man, in his natural state, is not at all the kind of person that earlier authorities made him out to be, but on the contrary, that he is a worthy object of interest. His untowardness is the effect of environment, an effect for which “society” is somehow responsible. If only his environment permitted him to live according to his lights, he would undoubtedly show himself to be quite a fellow; and the best way to secure a more favourable environment for him would be to let him arrange it for himself. The French Revolution acted powerfully as a springboard for this idea, projecting its influence in all directions throughout Europe.

On this side of the ocean a whole new continent stood ready for a large-scale experiment with this theory. It afforded every conceivable resource whereby the masses might develop a civilization made in their own likeness and after their own image. There was no force of tradition to disturb them in their preponderance, or to check them in a thoroughgoing disparagement of the Remnant. Immense natural wealth, unquestioned predominance, virtual isolation, freedom from external interference and the fear of it, and, finally, a century and a half of time – such are the advantages which the mass-man has had in bringing forth a civilization which should set the earlier preachers and philosophers at naught in their belief that nothing substantial can be expected from the masses, but only from the Remnant.

His success is unimpressive. On the evidence so far presented one must say, I think, that the mass-man’s conception of what life has to offer, and his choice of what to ask from life, seem now to be pretty well what they were in the times of Isaiah and Plato; and so too seem the catastrophic social conflicts and convulsions in which his views of life and his demands on life involve him. I do not wish to dwell on this, however, but merely to observe that the monstrously inflated importance of the masses has apparently put all thought of a possible mission to the Remnant out of the modern prophet’s head.

One of Carlin’s interviewers asks him if he wants to make people think, and he answers, no,

That would be the kiss of death. What I want to do is to let them know that I’m thinking.

Compare that with this nugget about Nock’s views on education (Gentle Nock on the Door, by Frank Chodorov at the Mises Institute website):

It will be seen that an evening with Nock on education was stimulating, especially since the conversation was embellished with anecdotes from the education of Rabelais (whose life inspired two books by Nock) or illustrations from his own college career. But if you thought that Nock had any idea of “doing something about it” you were soon set straight. “Things are as they are and will be as they will be,” and nothing could be done to change the course of events, nor even tried. After all, the educable will get their education, despite democracy, because they cannot help it. Any attempt to reform the democratic educational system is both presumptuous and hopeless.

To read more Nock or more about him, use the search engine on the Mises.org website.

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