Little Folkies

I usually repost the entire piece from my own site to this one, but the comments section from 2007 is more than half the fun, so I will only post the link. I can think of a half-dozen of you who will be interested. If you are not familiar with the old folk song “Little Boxes,” you should check that out first, or my post will not have meaning for you. I got a surprising amount of pushback from a reader who thought I was being unfair to old communists like Reynolds and Seeger, and I was more irritated than I should have been in response. I should have answered in good humor.

But judge for yourself. From my countdown of my hundred most visited posts.

13 thoughts on “Little Folkies”

  1. Ah, “artistes” (or, as some say, “artists”) are known to exaggerate truths out of a larger context, God bless ’em. But God help us if the political world becomes too influenced by their (stereotypical) political views.

  2. Good Progressive “artistes” are also known to tell malicious lies.

    This comment was very revealing:

    “It was an architectual disgrace, and deserved as much ridicule as could be heaped upon it, including the people who would buy such monstrosities.”

    Contemptible because mass-produced, and thus affordable. Contemptible because willing to buy such homes.

    George Orwell observed that many socialists were rather nasty people who despised the working classes that they pretended to work on behalf of: they were motivated not by compassion for the poor but by hatred for the middle class (and, as AVI notes, for the unfashionable.) Jordan Peterson has remarked that he saw a lot of that attitude when he was active in left politics in his youth.

  3. I think that the release of this song mapped a sea change in the Leftist worldview.

    Earlier, the Left had wanted (or at least said that it wanted) better lives for workers; they wanted the workers to have MORE.

    The song marked the beginning of a transition to an era when Leftists were resentful that the workers had so much (“materialism’) and, at some level, wanted them to have LESS.

  4. There has also been a transition, in the same timeframe or a little later, in the Leftist view of industrial technology. Here are the Fabian socialists Sidney & Beatrice Webb, writing circa 1928:

    “The manual-working population of the cities was, in fact, mainly composed of laborers who were lifelong hewers of wood and drawers of water whilst that of the vast stretches of farmland and forest outside the cities was as devoid of art as of letters. And the proportion of merely mechanical work in the world s production has, taken as a whole, lessened, not increased. What a multitude of laborers quarried the stones, dragged and carried the stones and lifted the stones of the cathedral walls on which half a dozen skilled and artistic masons carved gargoyles? From the building of the Pyramids down to the present day, the proportion of the world’s work of the nature of mere physical digging, pushing, carrying, lifting* and hammering, by the exertion of muscular force, has almost continuously diminished…. And it must not be forgotten that, in “Western civilization to-day, the actual numbers of men and women engaged in daily work of distinctly intellectual character, which is thus not necessarily devoid of art, are positively greater than at any previous time. There are, of course, many more such workers of superior education, artistic capacity, and interesting daily tasks in Henry Ford’s factories at Detroit than there were in the whole city of Detroit fifty years ago! Along side of these successors of the equally exceptional skilled handicraftsmen of the Middle Ages there has come to be a vast multitude of other workers with less interesting tasks, who could not other wise have come into existence, and who represent the laborers of the cities and the semi-servile rural population of past times, and who certainly would not themselves dream of wishing to revert to the conditions of those times. It may be granted, that, in much of their daily tasks (as has always been the case) the workers of to-day can find no joy, and take the very minimum of interest. But there is one all important difference in their lot. Unlike their predecessors, these men spend only half their waking hours at the task by which they gain their bread. In the other half of their day they are, for the first time in history, free (and, in great measure, able) to give themselves to other interests, which in an ever- increasing proportion of cases lead to an intellectual development heretofore unknown among the typical manual workers. It is, in fact, arguable that it is among the lower half of the manual workers of Western civilization rather than among the upper half, that there has been the greatest relative advance during the past couple of centuries. It is, indeed, to the so-called unskilled workers of London and Berlin and Paris, badly off in many respects as they still are and notably to their wives and children that the Machine Age has incidentally brought the greatest advance in freedom and in civilization.”

  5. The irony of that poxy song is that excoriates the sameness of the houses of the working class in America.

    You know, unlike the highly individual houses of the working class in socialist utopias. Nothing says “individualism” quite like one of Le Corbusier’s tower blocks, or Soviet apartment buildings.

  6. Re Dr. Mercury’s snarky comment:

    Unless you’re over 55 and were living in the S.F. Bay Area back in the late 60’s, you really have no idea what went on back then.

    Well, I am, and I was, and he’s as full of crap as a Christmas turkey.

  7. I suspect the song went through the minds of a lot of architects and developers over the years. It probably had at least a somewhat beneficial effect. Even though no development will ever be able to match the look of the idyllic “Our Town” street, built at random over decades.

  8. It seems as if the lyrics mock the dwellers of the “ticky tacky” that could have been part of a socialist utopia, but still prefer “freedom” and despise the socialist ideology, although the material “manifestation” would likely be about the “same”. The lyrics, it seems, see only the structures and ignore the individuals living in them.

    “T’ain’t much, but it’s mine”. Those, of courae, are the “enemy” who must be mocked. But for them………

  9. “Earlier, the Left had wanted (or at least said that it wanted) better lives for workers; they wanted the workers to have MORE.”

    The song is an early indicator of the new-left view that reached full flower c 1970 with things like the Club of Rome.

    For once upon a time there were progressives who actually believed in progress. They died out in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the Apollo program being their last hurrah. Afterwards they were supplanted by a new left with a new party line of “Learn to live with less, you hate-filled greedy bastards!”

    Now those actually-for-progress progressives had some major flaws. One was a willingness to bulldoze people’s personal plans in favor of their own Big Plans For Society. Another was to seriously underestimate just how poisonous socialism and government regulation is to an economy. But they still favored a better, brighter, more prosperous future in a way the later “Learn to live with less!” leftists did not.

  10. a new party line of “Learn to live with less, you hate-filled greedy bastards!”

    Well, socialism had notoriously failed to deliver the material plenty that was promised. Given how difficult that proved to be, it would be a lot easier for Central Planners to deliver a promised scarcity.

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