Friday, October 2, 2009
Capital by Karl Marx
Well, I've been quietly warned not to bore everyone with this review. I can't imagine why. What could be more thrilling, more invigorating, more romantic, more... spine-tingling then 19th century economics? The wonder! The suspense! The intrigue! Will Mr. Proletariat gain his one true love, Ms. Society-not-based-on-the-forced-extraction-of-surplus-value, or will evil Dr. Greedy-Industrialist snatch it from his grasp with the aid of his man-eating wool spinnery?!
I get it, I know. It's a little dry. And old. Bear with me, I promise not to take too much of your time.
Here's the think about Karl Marx - Karl Marx is like baking soda. Baking soda takes nasty (field trip! Everyone go to your kitchen and put some baking soda on your tongue. Done? See, I told you. Nasty). N-A-S-T-Y. It's not fun to eat baking soda. If you brought an alien to earth and said, "Here Mork, have some baking soda! We love it here, every kitchen keeps it around," then the alien would quickly decide you were a deeply screwed up people, and blast you to smithereens. Besides, baking soda is the root of some really obnoxious things in life. Like gross-tasting toothpaste. And those volcano science projects that actually teach you nothing about science, except that the earth is filled with vinegar and baking soda. And we cannot forget that, historically, baking soda has been used to do some really terrible things - like the practical joke cookies when they put in way too much and the cookies taste terrible. These things must always be remembered when we go to the supermarket to refill on baking soda.
But, baking soda is so much more than that! If you had, in 1820, given me a box of baking soda with no particular guidance as to how I ought use it, I admit, I probably would have tried to implement it in the poisoning of rats, or the making of very unpleasant carbonated vinegar beverages. But, luckily, I was not the discoverer of baking soda because I would have totally mucked it up, and we would all be eating those horrible cakey chocolate chip cookies that you make when you realize you're out and have to substitute baking powder (shudder - for future reference, in this situation, just say screw it and eat the dough raw). Luckily someone else was the discoverer, and while I look back and think he couuld have made the whole idea a little more entertaining (I mean baking soda? That's the best name he could come up with? Not magic-super-bubbling-powder?)apparently I'm wrong, because people TOTALLY latched on to baking soda, people changed the world with baking soda. People today? They'll tell you that baking soda is passe, even irritatingly out of context. They'll point out it's evils. But where, my beloveds, would baked goods be without baking soda? Where would smelly freezers be? Or Hints from Heloise? Baking Soda, this humble, dry, boring stuff, has somehow worked itself into the very fiber of our society.
Cry out if you will! TEll me I'm wrong, tell me that baking powder, in contrast to baking soda, is far better in biscuits, or cake, tell me that men lived for thousand of years without baking soda, and that they were better off then. Tell me how, without baking soda, we would all be less distracted from perfecting our baking powder desserts, and that baking soda is a dangerous, insidious poison in the pastry industry - perhaps if you are very radical, you'll even tell me that we should all just go back to the old way, before soda OR powder, that men made croissants, after all, without the aid of the nefarious soda of baking. I will quietly admit that a world without baking soda is conceivable. But I'll remind you, too, that while yes, baking soda has brought us it's share of evils by those who are over-zealous with it's use, or who apply for their own benefit instead of the benefit of the eating masses, it's also brought us the inestimable good of non-sucky chocolate chip cookies, non-stinky freezers, and a populace who, truly, has been liberated from the need to lay out sourdough starters, or carefully fold meringues, or sundry other leavening techniques, just to entertain guests with a pleasant after dinner treat. That in the past men lived iwthout, but only because it's time had not come, that the advent of the industrial revolution changed men's lives so DEEPLY, that baking soda, in one form or another, if not the substance than at least the SPIRIT of baking soda was an inevitable, sacred blessing to bakers AND dessert eaters all over the world, EVEN to those who would decry baking soda for it's seeming wickedness. Remember, my friends, the other leavenings can be wicked too! Do not forget the lack of democracy in a yeast bread society, or the inestimable wickedness of a world without good chocolate chip cookies! Do not forget that baking powder has forced us into a world in which we must accept the use of 'Clabber Girl' as a legitimate brand name. IS this worse than those stupid volcanos? No, no, but friends... is it better?
And you see, once you really look hard and ACCEPT that baking soda IS a big part of your life, and you taste it again, you find it's strange, intriguing even. Fun? No, no. Not something you'd want by the cupful at dinner every night of the week. But interesting? Yes, definitely that. It's mineral tang, it's strange, leavening force, it's absorptive power... these things are worth your study, your attention. Even if you bake with powder, exclusively (or even if you are a yeast snob), and understanding of baking soda deepens your understanding of your own leavening, and dare I say, reminds you of it's weaknesses, of it's past excesses. It brings an awareness of the world that makes the dry, temporary unpleasantness fulfilling and worthwhile. And in the end, it teaches you that a world where all leavenings can coexist, where we can peacefully, lovingly experiment and work towards a balance between them in baking is a better world than any one orthodoxy.
Marx, and by extension Capital, is like that too.