Jesse's Reviews > The Odyssey of Homer

The Odyssey of Homer by Alexander Pope
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Sep 20, 12

Read from October 24 to November 05, 2010

Ah, The Odyssey. Only a fool could rate this less than five stars on account of its literary qualities, but this book is such an instrument of white, male power that I must leaven my praise with a little criticism. George Orwell said you shouldn't judge Rudyard Kipling's literary output by the politics disseminated within it, and that point is well taken. But, for someone of the Left, there is a particular scene that is most despicable and always gives me shudders (besides the many scenes where Penelope is basically told to shut up for being a woman). In Book X, when Odysseus and his crew are off the coast of Ithaca after spending a year with Aeolus, the wind god, the crew get the idea that the amount of Odysseus wealth is unjust. They then rummage through the bags, redistributing the spoils and accidentally open the bag of winds that was propelling the ship toward their homeland. When the wind escapes, their ship is thrown off course; a wonderfully myopic metaphor for the way authority envisions itself as protecting the lower classes from their own foolishness. What is left unsaid is that Odysseus is the only one who is really going to benefit upon returning to Ithaca. This is a great sketch of how reality has been diverted in history; the sailors were finally choosing their own destiny. And look who's asleep at the wheel - that fool who gave up immortality for power! In the words of Ian Svenonius, we are living in the Nation of Ulysses!
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David So you think theft is justified by jealousy?


Jesse No "jealousy" - "theft" is justified by justice, but then one cannot call it "theft", because "theft" implies injustice. Hence, not "theft", but redistribution; not "jealousy", but justice.


David When you redistribute, you take from some and give to others. It's theft to the degree that you take it - how do you determine what is "fair" or "just"? It's purely subjective. In the modern context there are few who earn high salaries, and many who earn much lower salaries - but whether the many think the few have earned it (which they frankly have no perspective anyway, since they can't speak to challenges or skills require for a job they don't have), it doesn't mean that they earned or deserve it either, they just covet it.

As for Odysseus (and I think you are referring to the scene in Book X, not Book XI), even though Odysseus is arrogant and power-hungry he still was crucial in the Iliad to the victory in Troy. Despite his sobering traits, he constantly proves himself to be very clever - this is something his crew does NOT have, they are not smart, they could never have defeated Troy without him. Odysseus is alone clever enough to survive the journey home to Ithaka. How are his crew justified in redistributing Odusseus's spoils? They haven't earned them! They simply covet them and therefore feel justified in their jealousy to rob him - that's why they're punished throughout the epic.


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron A quickly self refuting post.

We are told one cannot say what a fair or just distribution is, because that is subjective. But then we are told that Odysseus's cut, and the high earners of America, are what they deserve, or earn (i.e., their fair compensation). This is at best begging the question, at worst shallow apologetics. It also skirts the entire, but necessary discussion, of how it's even decided what they earn in the first place? Somehow it just happens, and it just so happens justly? Again, shallow.

David: "When you redistribute, you take from some and give to others."
And when Odysseus earned, or when a titan of American industry earns, he is redistributing from others (i.e., sales), into his own coffers. Earnings don't take place in a vacuum. Redistribution is the name of the game at all moments of societal wide distribution. Whereas Jesse has the insight to investigate the matter a little deeper, you're stuck begging the question, as demonstrated in paragraph 1.

See the problem David?


David Well of course in the Odyssey, the riches are either plundered from Troy or given to Odysseus by Aeolus. In the modern context, salaries are at least somewhat determined through supply and demand. The problem isn't weather CEOs earn what they make, but whether people who want that redistributed to them are anymore entitled to it. I would argue that they are not. Any company that chooses to overpay their executives does it at the cost of future investments since it directly diminishes profits - if the company values that leadership over some incremental investment in the future, then it is their discretion. Either way it is a fair market transaction. No one but the company (whose interests are represented by a Board of Directors and executive board) has ANY claim to the sales/profits of the organization - not customers, employees or anyone else. Employees who earn any amount of salary do so as a result of a fair employee agreement and their salaries are determined by their willingness to work at a salary that the company is willing to pay.

It's not shallow apologetics, and to say so indicates that you don't value work as something worthy of a price. No one can say how much a salary should be, but the people in charge of hiring put a price on it whether we think its fair or not. Its not anyone's place to redeem someone else's salary whether you think its fair or not. Steal from the richest man and see if you're redistribution argument avails in a court - of course it wont.

You are incorrect to say that Sales are a redistribution, they are not. Someone pays for a good or service, they do not "redistribute" their earnings to stores - they pay what they deem a fair price for a good in exchange, if they think it is an unfair trade, they aren't compelled to do it, so there is no "redistribution" there is only an exchange.

In terms of the Odyssey, obviously the societal organization is very different and antiquated. There is a degree of unfairness in the rowers being expected to work for naught but pride in winning the war. Their work is deserving of payment, but it doesn't make Odysseus less deserving.


message 6: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron There's too much to bite at here, and the discussion would get far too lengthy, when I have homework due today. Just to be clear though, the way I value work is independent of price, the same way I value friendship and love are independent of price. A price to work is a recent phenomena in human history.

You're taking the present structure of society, the capitalist structure, which has existed for around 160 years, and imputing its model as transcendent laws of how the world works, and a direct reflection of how justice IS. This remains shallow.

You can't skirt around the issue of CEO compensation, and say the only problem is workers asking for redistribution. This continues to beg the question, that to some degree, the CEO has a fair share. Or, at the very least, it shows a painful class bias, by never worrying too much about one side, and only the other. The CEO cannot make a $.01 without some level of worker run production. Now the struggle comes down to, how much of what the worker produces, when sold, do we give to the worker, and do we give to upper management. This is where redistribution ALWAYS takes place. You say the employee earns his fair share by a willing contract between the employee and company management, but this is silly. There's no fair contract here, when one side already has the means to survive into the long-term, and the other side (the worker), must work to survive in the short term. Most people take the work they can get, when they can get it, because they don't have the luxury of undergoing a debate process. Of course, you again, refer to this moment in the transaction as fair, but then precede to pretend as if fairness is subjective and irrelevant. Keep begging the question David.

Continue to treat the present legal/economic structure, as the timeless structure of morality, and market 'laws' (something no Incan has ever heard of and did fine without), and your overall analysis will remain shallow.


David You can continue to call my view shallow if you wish, but other than having a different opinion you have yet to show that yours is any less shallow. Your opinion represents the broad social phenomenon of the American feeling of entitlement. Your worldview seems so narrow and envious.

If a CEO decided to be paid $10 an hour, it wouldn't raise the salary of everyone else. In terms of running a company, the two are totally independent, the salary of one has no effect on the salary of the other. If an employee thinks they are not being paid a fair salary, they can only blame themselves: they can seek different employment, work independently and/or start a business, argue for a raise if they have earned one, or quit. Their feelings of entitlement for what is paid to their boss does not imbue them with the right to it.

A CEO is a broad term, and you mistreat it. A CEO can make money with no other hired workers. Someone who is self employed is both CEO and worker. You speak only in extreme cases of large corporations, and generalize downward to apply to all. It's true that in a large corporation a CEO could not make money without workers, but at the same time, a worker can't turn his efforts into a billion dollar organization without leadership and strategic guidance. Distribution, marketing, capital-raising, customer service, etc. are all branches of business which must work in unison or the company will not be competitive. No worker or even group of workers can accomplish the same thing. To argue otherwise would be naive and deluded.

The question of fairness is irrelevant, because what someone else is paid has no effect on your pay. Any feeling of injustice is jealousy, plain and simple whether you're will to admit it to yourself or not. You can't talk about money in terms of justice without also talking about jealousies. In a monetary system the two are tied.


message 8: by Chris (last edited Sep 20, 2012 07:40AM) (new)

Chris Byron Envy implies I actually desire, or want to be, in the other person’s position. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's not envious to redistribute the king's riches, if at the same time, you don't want there to be a king in general.

The CEOs decision of how much he can be paid is of course determined within a confines of how much revenue is expected to come in. $10 may be all he can afford for a brand new business, and $2,000,000 may be completely available for someone at Chevron. Point being, at the end of the day, there must be a level of production for there to be any excess in revenue, and within that confine of value, is where the redistribution and divvying up takes place. You say it doesn't matter what the CEO decides, that's always fair (we have our new king!). It's only unfair when the worker asks for anything extra (even though, again, the CEO’s salary is determined around an axis of value found initially in production...).

Your notion of the market is a bit utopian. Workers do not have a bastion of opportunities, whereby they can seek out maximizing wages. I mean any BRIEF look at off shoring of companies to India, China, Indonesia, Mexico, etc, confirms this. When the housing bubble exploded and unemployment went from 5-10%, and former workers were thus in excess of supply, for a small demand of jobs, there compensation went down, as a result of a bubble most of them had zero control over. Subsequently, workers were, and are, taking jobs wherever they can get them, for decreased real wages, while CEOs are doing mostly as fine they were before the bubble. For you, the latter is fair; the former isn't to be analyzed too deeply. Class bias. And a shallow one.

In regards to the third paragraph, the delusion is not on my end. Throughout all societies, pre and post civilization, labor is constant. That is, people always work to produce and reproduce themselves, and their society. The necessity of the CEO is historically recent (160 years or so). It's deluded to maintain that the CEOs present historical position is the necessary constant. He's no more necessary than the feudal lord, or the demanding friar or bishop.

What someone is paid revolves around an axis, of overall value, that can be divided up. If our company makes $10 a day, I can't pay myself $11, and you X, and I can't pay you $11, and me X. So the question is, around the axis, how do we split things up? You say whatever the CEO says is fair, but anything else is subjective. The question of fairness is relevant than, because we must know 1, why the CEO is receiving a fair share, and 2, its relevant from the position of the worker, who lives paycheck to paycheck, and struggles to get by.


David If you want redistribution, how can you claim not to be desirous? You may not want to be CEO, but you want the things that come of being CEO, namely the higher salary.

Not 100% of sales go to salaries, so your analysis of the workings of company financials represents a gap in your argument. It is not Sales = 10, CEO salary = x, everyone else = 10-x/#workers. In fact, usually only about 30% of sales are allocated to salaries (CEO and workers combined), a little more on average for service businesses. The rest goes to capital expenses like facilities, machinery if there is any, rent, and taxes (which is already a redistributing factor). The salary of a CEO is high, yes, but as it increases or decreases, the share that goes to everyone else is not affected directly. The factors that effect employee pay are generally inflation, demand for higher skills, etc. and usually the result of prolonged good performance. Your view of how businesses work exposes a lack of knowledge which I assume is derivative of not working in a business. It's obvious that your education is some tributary from social sciences like Economics, Sociology, Psychology etc. So in fact, it would appear that your view of the workplace is more skewed than mine, since it is a view based only on opinions you've read and not empirical experience. So don't call my view utopian, it's not, I think there is a lot of corruption and unfairness, but I don't think it entitles me to anything that someone else has earned fairly or unfairly. If anything your views of work opportunities are dystopian, and only in recent years has there been difficulty finding jobs.

Outsourcing is a scapegoat argument to avoid the reality of there being a change in desired skills in the workplace. There is no fixed amount of jobs, because a new company can start tomorrow and need new jobs. The US has relatively high cost of labor anyway, and so it makes financial sense to send very low skill jobs overseas where it is cheaper. The alternative would be to eventually have to stop hiring in general as a result of declining profits. Skilled jobs remain very much in America, and not just people like bankers and CEOs, electricians, mechanics and other trade jobs are very lucrative and don't require the large upfront investment of a four year bachelor's degree. The problem is that our culture tells people to go to college, when for some people there are probably higher payoff decisions like trade schools etc.

Of course people living paycheck to paycheck are very sad and sympathetic, but they're digressions from the argument. There has never and will never be a society where everyone is equal, because everyone is NOT equal. Even disregarding benefits acquired at birth, IQs, physical builds, handicaps etc. all make people unequal in different ways. Whether you think a CEO has earned their salary is irrelevant. I believe that most CEOs have worked very hard to get where they are; whatever advantages they have had, I think it is still a hard path to pursue and achieve, and I think the work is hard, not physically, but mentally trying, and publicly they are under much more scrutiny than any worker beneath them.

And I'm confused where your arguments from history are coming from? They do nothing for your argument. So CEOs are inventions of the last 200 years? So are women's rights, racial rights, abolition of slavery, etc. Should we throw them away? Obviously we'd agree not to, so historical recency is far removed from any relevance to this, or really any, argument.


Jesse "If you want redistribution, how can you claim not to be desirous? You may not want to be CEO, but you want the things that come of being CEO, namely the higher salary."

Desire arises out of inequality. Redistribution creates equality, and therefore eliminates desire, envy, and greed. Socialists are trying to remove desire from human life - that's why the Dalai Lama calls himself a Marxist. Unless you believe "The Secret" to be a profound book, you ought to agree.


message 11: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron Desire and envy are not synonymous. I said I don't need envy to want redistribution. But I do desire a population that is nourished, and secure (medically, monetarily, etc). I've known too many people that work very hard, everyday, with little to no vacation, who in the flick of a stock market switch, have their world shattered. Or, by a fallible mistake (we all make them), lose too much. I desire security in their lives, this has nothing to do with envy.

I know not 100% of sales go to salary. This is obvious. But, I was using crude simple examples to make my basic point: i.e., salary revolves around an axis. And distribution does too (salary is distribution). The same argument can be made even if we enter other equations like marketing, constant capital, investment on machinery, payments on loans, etc. I've worked in a number of businesses, in various positions. The point remains the same though. Once we factor off all variables of constant capital, we are left with divvying up the excess from sales.

I 100% agree with your paragraph on outsourcing. My point though was that given the nature of the volatile, and always mobile market, people do not have this static utopian social contract basis you elude to. When your job is threatened to be off shored to India, you're not in a fair bargaining setting. Victory necessarily goes to the capitalist. Or, when a bubble burst, and the labor pool drastically rises (as no fault of the laboring class), their real wages go down. Thus their bargaining power is reduced, by no fault of their own. And the bargaining power of the CEO, is raised, also by no fault of his own.

I also agree with your paragraph on inequality. Yes, people are innately unequal. But we are dealing with compensation here, when you say the CEO is compensated fairly (but fairness is subjective), and the worker has no wiggle room to introduce the argument of fairness or equality. But you, as a representative of the CEO, have room to introduce fairness for his class. It's a class bias, and it's shallow. Why is the CEOs compensation fair, and not subjective, but if the worker class argues for, let's say, a $10 minimum wage, that's unfair and subjective?

I used history to pinpoint that the CEO isn't necessary. You were indicating that the worker can't be prosperous without the CEO. I was pinpointing that for most of prosperity in general, there was no CEO. Labor, was the constant, CEO is the variable. Ergo, prosperity can survive without the CEO. We ought to retain racial rights, and abolition of slavery, while doing away with our present plantation/corporation owners.


David "most of prosperity in general" has occurred in the last 200/250 years, the CEO is just a term for the head of a company, which has existed as long as there have been companies. No one can deny that exponential growth in wealth has been a result of taking a more capitalistic view of the economy (no economy in the world or in history has ever been 100% socialist or capitalist, always in some midpoint). So to say the CEO is optional is mistaken, he's a strategic head of the company, and for most small to midsized companies it is a job part and parcel with the president or owner. In the globally competitive market, it is absolutely necessary for a strategic head of a company. Essential. Prosperity as we know it would decline because companies would not be able to exist on the scale they do today - of course prosperity is relative and it would exist, but it would notably decline for everyone, not just the top tier.

Wanting equality is an admirable wish, but its a wish in the weakest form, it's like wanting world peace - it's something ostensibly that everyone wants but outside the reach of any direct action.

Desire is vital to any economy, and in some ways I think envy is too, to the extent that it spurs ambition. If in the extreme case that everyone was paid the same, there is no motivation to work harder or achieve more, because there is no reward.

I think people should have fair opportunities. I think that class disparity exists, and that it is unfair, but opportunity is rarely impossible, it just takes a lot more work. Redistribution of wages is not a solution to improving well being, at best it causes complacency in most, and helps a few. Equality of education at the basic level is most likely the best way to create fairness, not redistribution of wages.

Things happen that are not our fault, that is true, and its bad. But at the same time, someone's misfortune shouldn't be a tether on someone else. The world is unfair, chance is unfair, but disaster resulting from choice is not unfair. It is unfortunate, yes, but if you invest all your money in stocks and the market goes down, you can only blame your investment choices, not anyone else.

A state where everyone is equal is an absurd utopia, and its one that does not view the world as changing, but static. If I lose all my money gambling (which is largely akin to putting it all in stocks), am I entitled to reimbursement? Of course not. In the same way, if I were living in poverty, I'm not entitled to the money or kindnesses of anyone else. Anything I get from someone else is for them to give at their discretion, regardless of my opinion of them or their opinion of me, its not for me to take.


message 13: by Chris (last edited Sep 20, 2012 09:18AM) (new)

Chris Byron You're still failing to comprehend my basic point. Wages/salary are in and of themselves redistribution, around an axis of value. You can't write it off as a solution, when it's already the present solution to wages/salary in general. And you can't refer to it as both fair and subjective, depending on the class view.

The only utopian is the one who claims capitalism can continue down its present course, and seeks to justify its present modus operandi. Like all socio-economic arrangements, it too will change. If not from the environmental crisis we are facing, then from rebellion due to inequality; possibly even it will exhaust itself by running out of areas to invest in constant compound growth.

Jesse nor as I have yet to argue that there can be a state where everyone is equal - as I at least recognize innate inequality - but matters of distribution, production, and social relationships around both, can be different. Since capitalism is not a constant for all history, it's not irrational to discuss alternatives.


David I'm not failing to comprehend your point. Wages are distributions, yes. But there is no such thing as a "fairer" distribution, just because it is more uniform across job positions. THAT is your premise that I'm disagreeing with. You can want people at the bottom to be paid more, but invariably it means that either there is less money to reinvest in the business, or people at the top get paid less. Yes all wages revolve around the axis of production of services or goods, but the distribution around that axis is stratified in a way to reward certain intangible or strategic contributions over the performance of simple tasks. What would redistributing it accomplish, other than to over-reward simple tasks? Even ignoring the effects on higher paid people, there is no reason to pay someone doing a simple task more unless that position becomes more valuable.

A business is not a charity after all. They pay the lowest wage they can in order to increase profits and sustain the business through reinvestment. At the same time, they need workers with adequate skill and motivation, and that is why most businesses pay in excess of the government imposed minimum wage.

Cases of extreme poverty and misfortune are exceptions not rules, and poverty is also relative. The poverty rate in the USA fluctuates between 10-15% which is comparable to most other developed countries, but poor people in the US are still far and away better than the poorest 10-15% in undeveloped countries.

I was using the example of uniform equality as an extreme case to illustrate a point. What he have now (in the US anyway) is a mixed economy, not capitalism. It has the excesses and short comings of both socialist and capitalist economies. The socialist aspect has left us with debt that we cannot pay off an entitlement programs which we cannot support, and the capitalist side gives way to class disparities. However, since you seem enamored with historical examples, looking at the adoption of free-er market economies, ALL classes of people have improved their condition. Some have improved them more and represent the highest paid class of people, yes, but it would be naive to say that the adoption of more capitalist doctrine hasn't improved the ABSOLUTE state of everyone's well-being. Everyone benefits when we experience expansion, regardless of relative disparities between individuals.

On the contrary, every example of socialism in history has resulted in slower growth and higher unemployment. The USSR is a very obvious example, but the more socialist countries in Europe have also suffered from these effects. China is as unequal in terms of income equality as the US. Say what you will about the future of capitalist economies, but I think the verdict on socialist ones (where the main tenant is that of redistribution) is pretty evident.


message 15: by Jesse (last edited Sep 20, 2012 10:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesse "Wanting equality is an admirable wish, but its a wish in the weakest form, it's like wanting world peace - it's something ostensibly that everyone wants but outside the reach of any direct action."

Of course, there are tactics to be employed by the relevant associations. While it may be "outside of the reach of direct action", as you say, it is not indirectly, i.e. via the compounded effect of accumulated victories over time. That is why movements for social change are called movements, and take decades, even centures to effect differences. Thanks, by the way, for the correction on the Odyssey; I was typing from memory.


message 16: by Chris (last edited Sep 20, 2012 10:58AM) (new)

Chris Byron It was you who said wages were both fair and subjective, not me. I'm sorry if this leads to mental gymnastics and tongue twisting. This is a sign that your premises need to be changed.

Now that we recognize value is coming from production, we can more clearly see when a CEO, or corporate body, keeps more value for itself, than it pays the producer, it is redistributing value to itself. Although I won't enter the discussion, corporate big wigs are on average making 350x the average employee presently, when after WWII - 70s, it was more like 50x. There could be an issue of fairness here, but I digress.

I disagree, and agree, with a lot of your subsequent points, but they're all irrelevant to the discussion. As much as I'd USUALLY enjoy discussing them, I lack the time today to do so. Moreover, I don't think a review of the Odyssey is the right place to have the discussion.


David Wages are subjective, so they're both fair and unfair in the sense that neither is right but neither is wrong. I don't feel like looking through my posts to find where I said it, but I'm assuming I meant it in a legal context, meaning that both sides consent to it, making it "fair" in that sense.

And I agree, it's been fun but I have other things to do.


James Trinity What is the cure for foolishness?


Jesse I do not know the answer... but I do know that power in the hands of fools is the plague of all ages.


James Trinity I guess I gotta give some things up.


Oncemshi There can exist another interpretation if one insists this event be viewed as a parable: the caprice of the mob can strike any established rule if the people believe they aren't in good hands. Indeed, Odysseus failed to convey the truth about the bag. Since a good leader must veritably win the hearts of h/er subjects, Odysseus displays a fatal failure. View in this light, The Odyssey as a standalone work escapes your criticism, notwithstanding whatever its authors' political views were.


Jesse Thank you for your point, Oncemshi. We disagree on the premise, however, that says, there exists "a good leader". All leaders are criminals, in my opinion.


message 23: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron Che?


Jesse Che?


message 25: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron Was he a criminal leader?


message 26: by Jesse (last edited Aug 21, 2013 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesse Well, I think we ought to make a distinction between generals and political leaders. Remember, the whole idea that there needs to be secrecy, and therefore leaders, comes from the military, and the tactics it necessarily endorses. If we make that distinction, then we must ask: is statesmanship synonymous with, or only somewhat similar to, generalship?


Jesse But, to answer your question less philosophically, Che was a criminal to the degree that he participated in a Marxist-Leninist government, in my opinion; and it's not clear he did at all.


message 28: by Chris (new)

Chris Byron So by your criteria would this mean Castro was not an enemy until the establishment of the Cuban government? But up until that point, a liberator like Che?
I'm not asking you to be slick, these are sincere questions. Because to a degree I mostly agree with you.


Jesse The Cuban Revolution was not Marxist-Leninist, so it's a little harder to cast judgement than say with the Chinese. More or less, the Cubans were forced into their current form of government because of the Cold War. I don't find Castro very culpable for that. I've always thought Castro and Che were equally liberators, just doing different things; they were both always much more Marxist than Leninist, in my opinion. If you read Castro, you can tell that right away - his Leninism was a rather reluctant step; and in my mind, he's more or less exonerated for that.


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