Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)

This set me thinking about The Pirate again. In that book there is a character name Triptolemus Yellowley, an agent of the government, who has been sent to Zetland (Shetland) to improve agriculture there. He has nothing but contempt for the way the natives farm the land. Their methods are wrong, their crops are wrong, their tools and their Shetland Ponies are all wrong, he insists. He has no actual practical experience to support these criticisms, mind you – he simply went to an agricultural school and learned how the most progressive farmers are doing it in England. If it works in England, it must surely work here! Yellowley is a comic character – Scott doesn’t hate him, but he has a good deal of fun at his expense. He’s an amusing character, so long as he isn’t empowered to force his methods on actual farmers.

Yellowley is the avatar of future generations of government experts, dispatched by benevolent bureaucrats to meddle in the lives of common folk, especially rural folk.

To be fair, such people have done a lot of good in real life. I know that in Norway the peasants resisted the innovation of the potato for more than a century, until literal starvation under the British blockade in the Napoleonic wars forced them to eat them. Now potatoes are a revered staple of Norwegian folk cuisine. In other places, government experts have reduced soil erosion through new plowing methods, and soil exhaustion through the rotation of crops. They’ve taught people to fully cook their pork to prevent trichinosis, and to stop spitting to reduce tuberculosis.

But Yellowley is also the avatar of the Soviet commissar, organizing Russian and Ukrainian farms into communal operations, breaking up the old private holdings, treating people and land alike as statistics, and exploiting them all the same. He’s the avatar of Pol Pot, marching Cambodians out into the country to slave on communal farms in Year One.

One theme of Kirk’s book is that conservatism (ironically, in light of current disputes) stands for diversity, for localism and eccentricity and private genius. Liberalism, for all its rhetoric, is about flattening the curve of human individuality.

3 thoughts on “Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)”

  1. I like that last paragraph very much.

    My wife filled out the census the other day and said it asked for layers of ethnicity. It asked that if you are white, are you Irish, Scottish, English, German, etc. She wished she thought to say American in the moment. I told her that one on hand people want to know the layers of social color in a country; on the other hand if you aren’t an immigrant or the son of an immigrant, you’re American no matter what your ethnicity.

  2. Then there was the Groundnuts Scheme. A government expert decided that Tanzania was a perfect place to grow groundnuts (i.e., peanuts). This was approved.
    It was extremely difficult to transport equipment, the land had to be cleared at great effort (they used modified Sherman tanks as bulldozers), there were hostile animals from elephants and rhinoceri to bees and scorpions, the labor had to be trained from first principles, the land was unsuitable, there was no reliable water supply, there were floods and droughts . . .
    But an expert had said so.

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