The Sons of Martha Have Had Enough

3 03 2009

I generally despise poetry. That said, there are a few poets I can stomach (it’s an extremely short list), and Rudyard Kipling is my favorite among them. He wrote a poem called The Sons of Martha, which I reproduce below (courtesy of the Literature Network):

The Sons of Martha

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods, “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd- they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit- then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden- under the earthline their altars are-
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd- they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet- they hear the Word- they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and- the Lord, He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

This particular poem is particularly appropriate these days, in my opinion. There seem to be a great many people donning the mantle of the Sons of Mary, blithely certain that God in the guise of the US Government will intervene between their folly and the consequences thereof. Far too many people apparently believe that the laws of cause and effect do not apply to them. “Consequences? Not my problem. I’m an American citizen/Christian/Democrat/Republican/insert-special-interest-group-here!”

Rather than rely upon the whims of some celestial voice or earthly government, I prefer to earn my own way.  I refuse to blindly hope that things will turn out for the best, because I am incapable of blissfully ignoring the cold and unpalatable nature of reality.

All of those Sons of Mary out there who defer or shirk their responsibilities in the happy knowledge that someone else will pick up the slack, take notice- the Sons of Martha are sick of carrying your load.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a good person.  The Universe does not care. It also doesn’t matter what flavor of religion or politics you find appetizing. If you aren’t willing to carry your own weight and own up to the consequences of your actions, you are a parasite. Parasites exist by extracting what they need to survive from creatures that actually work for a living. The host creature- the Sons of Martha, in this case- must disencumber itself of the freeloaders draining it of vital nutrients before the drain becomes crippling.

Actions have consequences. Failure to act is itself an action, and also has consequences. “The bank shouldn’t have loaned me all that money!” does not negate your personal failure in choosing to ask for- and accept- a loan you couldn’t pay back. Furthermore, I see no reason why I should be forced to pay the penalty for your stupidity- again.

And it isn’t just me. Far more people buckled down and made the necessary sacrifices to pay their debts than have defaulted on loans. Those people are also getting soaked to pay for the minority of people too stupid or lazy or financially incompetent to pay their fucking bills on time.

It has been argued that some people failed to pay their bills through no fault of their own. People who lost jobs as a result of someone else’s failings, for example. I concede that there may be a tiny percentage of the people I am excoriating who may fit this description. In the bad old days of the early 80s, I was even one of them. But I didn’t find it necessary to shrug my burden off on the taxpayers.

I found a job delivering pizzas while my wife worked as a secretary. We contacted all of our creditors and worked out deals with them- they would each get paid a little bit every month. One of our creditors got paid the normal payment- plus as much extra as we could afford until it was paid off. Lather, rinse, repeat. We scrimped and saved and did without and dug ourselves out of the hole we’d dug ourselves into. And we paid off every fucking nickel we owed. With interest.

Notice that there was no appeal to God or Government involved. Sacrifice and self-discipline and a sense of personal responsibility are apparently not politically-correct terms these days, but those are exactly what is required on the part of those Sons of bitches Mary who are begging for the Gummint to come save them. Instead of manning up and dealing with the problem, these Sons of Mary seem to be bent on ruining everyone else.

I am tired of working my ass off to make a living, only to watch more and more of my money stolen by the Gummint to rescue deadbeats. What little remains is devalued by increasing inflation- which is the inevitable result from printing scads of fiat money to pay for ever-larger and more expensive Gummint programs for neer-do-wells.

This sort of Goodies-for-Undesirables program coupled with massive inflation (think of Zimbabwe)  stand a fair chance of driving what’s left of our Republic into the ground and barking at the hole. Wealthy republics seldom last long- usually only until the People discover they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. This is exactly what is happening to the United States of America right now, and I am sorry (but not altogether surprised) to see it. We had a pretty good run- 233 years- but I fear we’re looking at the last days of this Republic.

I hope I’m wrong.

Current status: Pissed

Current music: Lucifer by Alan Parsons Project




12 responses

10 03 2009
Kevin Johansen


And one of MY particular pet peeves on this issue is journalists calling for the apocalypse. If they’d get off their asses and actually do something other than talk, we’d all be better off.

No one has the right to feel sorry for themselves. There’s too much work to do.


13 03 2009

Me: no debt, damn lucky.
Kipling: always fucking awesome

“Deadbeats”: If I had to chose between a family staying in their home, or living in a “Bushville” (see “Hooverville”) – just so you could feel good about working hard for your paycheck? Family stays. No doubt.


That’s not the question, is it? Mortages are getting closed, the housing market is dead and record numbers of families are homeless. (See Jon Stewart’s reply to the Rick Santelli’s of the Wall Street, for more on my opinion about “Deadbeats” and “Losers”.)

Villains: The Sons of Mary are not the middle class families that are losing everything. They are stock brokers, politicians and CEOs. The top 1 percent that are sticking it to the other 99. As always.

The economy is -broken- on a fundamental level. Twenty plus years of “free market” has seen to that. The -real- work to be done (if we’re ever gonna be a first class economy again) is in rebuilding the US: infrastructure, manufacturing, tech innovation, etc.

Sons of Martha: Literally, that’s you and me. Figuratively, they are the people losing their jobs, homes and pensions.

14 03 2009

butchrobotpope: The US economy (including by extension the global economy) is not broken. You are still paying for goods and services, and are still getting paid for goods and services. Those are the fundamentals of our economy. The current economic clusterfuck is the result of a lack of faith in the more abstract world of finance.

In a basic economy, producers of goods and providers of services market their wares to consumers, who pay a negotiated price for those goods/services. More advanced economic models allow producers and consumers to negotiate prices for goods/services before they are produced/received. In the high-finance models, people who neither produce nor consume goods/services take it upon themselves to market fluctuations in those pre-negotiated prices as goods/services. More abstract still are those who buy and sell these nebulous and ephemeral variations in the prices of goods/services using other peoples’ money, and those that sell the potential profits from that abstract marketplace are still more distantly removed from the actual production of goods and services.

One of the good things about dealing in these sort of phantom goods/services is the establishment of financial institutions which create and regulate the availability of credit to make these purchases. So long as those lending institutions are not themselves participating in these market shenanigans (and therefore vulnerable to the inherent flaws in such as system), this is a good thing. Ordinary consumers will have access to low-cost credit.

The primary bad thing about these high-finance tricks is the fact that they are all based upon everyone more-or-less agreeing that the other guy is telling the truth about the value of his/her many-times-derived good/service. So long as everyone who finally mines down through the various bonds, stocks, notes, futures, etc, there is an actual good or service being performed and someone is exchanging commonly-accepted legal tender for same, everything works.

At some point, however, a few of the people involved in the process noticed that there was very little fact-checking going on. As long as these few people claimed that person X was paying company Y for good/service Z, the money continued to change hands up at the high-finance end whether or not the transaction actually took place.

So these people created a secondary market for phantom transactions and invented new accounting methods to further disguise the nature of their games. Then they borrowed money against the value of these phantom future transactions and hid the losses in their new accounting and made piles of cash from people just a little lower in the food chain- who mostly had no idea what was really going on.

Sooner or later, however, some of the consumers of these phantom transaction loans started looking into what was actually going on. Some of them looked the other way and continued to make a profit off the scheme. Others tried to correct the flaws they thought they were finding, and a rare few tried to call attention to the fact that an increasingly large number of transactions were not in fact taking place.

This led to some well-meaning people trying to reduce the impact of the phantom transactions by tying them to real transactions- thereby making sure that:
A- the financial markets kept running, and
B- the losses from the fake transactions got swallowed up by the far larger profits from real transactions.

Unfortunately for everyone, this just kept the problems hidden, which in turn allowed the scammers to use the new finance mechanisms to create ever-bigger scams and hide the losses.

Eventually, the fake transactions were so numerous- and the losses therefrom so large- that they could no longer be concealed by bundling them in with actual profitable transactions. Once the truth came out, the best choice would have been to let the whole house of cards collapse. Once the upper levels were cleared away (leaving only the core economic functions), a better-run financial system could have been put in place. Unfortunately, the last president and the current one decided that a long, drawn-out reboot was better than a fast one. If President Bush and Congress had merely let economic evolution take its course back in late 2007 when all this came to light, we’d already be on the rebound. As it is, the choice to pour money we don’t have into open sewers in the hope of clogging them up is prolonging the crisis and making its effects worse- and felt across a wider population. Worse still, printing trillions of dollars serves only to devalue our currency even more. Inflation and hyperinflation stand a good chance of kicking the last few supports out from under the real economy.

So your post missed the point entirely. Most of the homeowners who are losing their homes should never have purchased them in the first place. The people who blindly assumed that house prices were always going to rise (thereby relieving them of the cost of the house) are the Sons of Mary. They substituted faith in the Lord or the Market for hard work and common sense. If you make less than $50K per year, buying a house costing more than $300K (with annual mortgage payments totalling 55% of your pay) is the act of a lunatic. I don’t feel like subsidizing lunacy. I dug myself out of debt during the recession in the early 80s. I bought- and later sold- a house and made the payments on time. I did not beg for handouts from Washington or pray for good fortune from God. What I did then, people can do now. But no one seems to want to. Everyone seems to be praying for God or Gummint to come bail them out.

The Sons of Martha referred to in Kipling’s poem are the men and women who don’t trust in God or Government to make things work out all right. They see to it themselves. The Sons of Mary are all of those people who rely upon others to do things for them. They are the ones taking advantage of the mechanisms the Sons of Martha put in place to keep the world running smoothly without paying any of the costs.

This particular Son of Martha is tired of paying for their free ride. Let the chips fall where they may. I will rise from the rubble and start building a life for myself. I will gladly pitch in to help others who are trying to help themselves, but I will perfectly content to let parasites starve to death.

19 03 2009
Patrick S.

The ‘economy’ most certainly isn’t “broken”. In fact such assertion presumes certain assumptions, such as the coherent (and manageable) existence, of such a thing, or that its ‘operation’ is deterministic in some fashion, and can be ‘optimized’ (i.e. “fixed” or “repaired”), and that it possesses some stable and (more or less) static character. None of these things are true. The ‘economy’ is nothing but an abstract fantasy, a projection unto ourselves and our communities of wellness based on arbitrary (and changeable) aggregate measures of various kinds of economic activity conducted by all the individual actors involved. Declaration of crises are almost always nothing more than rhetorical arguments for action on the part of others, and often (if not usually!) of the form of coercion on the basis of the strength (or shrillness) of said declarations. In this sense we may well view Hitler as having been ‘the answer’ to the ‘crisis’ in German society in the 1930s! “It’s an emergency! We must take forceful and effective action!” And who better for that, than &etc, &etc, and so-forth, eh?

No, what we have here is simply a classic ‘Panic’ at the ultimate (and inevitable) collapse of the most recent ‘bubble’ (of a long line of such going back at least to the Tulip Panic in 17th Century northern Europe.) It’s merely a period of dis-equilibrium and ‘adjustment’, which however painful it may be to the expectations of many, corrects for gross inaccuracy in recent estimations of trajectories in markets, equity and valuation. Those who (proportionally) erred worst are those who suffer most, relatively. And that certainly seems fit and proper. If it means that some (or even many) will have to abandon certain presumptions regarding their ‘rightful’ ‘place’ in the economic scheme of things, then ‘so be it’. Reality has always been such. The only way assumptions about privilege and wealth at odds with reality can be preserved in the face of that reality is to prevail upon the police power of the state to expropriate wealth from some in order to subsidize the fantasies that others believe (and convince others) they should have some claim on by right.

Interestingly, it’s generally understood by most economics students, that such protective interference in the market incurs costs in efficiency, and the interests of those protected (to a greater or lesser extent) from the consequences of their own folly or misfortune (and, yes Virginia, bad things do sometimes happen to good people without recourse or amelioration!) are protected from the “buffet … and shock” only at the cost of the interests of all, in aggregate (not to mention the purely ‘zero-sum’ depredation inflicted on the donors to such effort).

In short, when efforts are made to reinforce Institutions, an argument can be made it’s an investment into organizational stability. But to the extent it’s a ‘welfare program’ intended to prevent or ameliorate the pain and loss of actors (however deserving or not!), it’s purely a ‘con game’ and theft….pure and simple.

24 07 2011
The Barefoot Bum

Man. You really need to take an economics course, but not one from Fox News.

25 07 2011

Barefoot Bum: I’m assuming you’re replying to the respondent above. If Fox “News” reported that the sun rose in the East, I’d check another source for verification.

10 11 2013

I found your site because I just posted something about ‘The Sons of Martha.’

Color me intrigued. Is Kipling asserting a vapidity to the Sons of Mary as well as a degree of honor to the Sons of Martha?


18 11 2013

Feralplum– Not exactly. Kipling has long been considered the British Empire’s greatest apologist. Just my opinion, but I think Kipling was re-stating the age-old myth of divine right. In this case, not the divine right of kings but the aristocratic class must be supported by the labor and effort of their “inferiors”- and then providing a thin connection to scripture to back it up.

My personal view is more in line with H.G. Wells’: The Sons of Martha are the Morlocks, and the Sons of Mary are the Eloi. Not that I’m claiming we should eat the rich as P.J. O’Rourke did. I just feel increasingly put upon by those who toil not, neither do they spin. Far too many people in this country are seemingly more interested in their privileges than their responsibilities, and it doesn’t seem to matter what side of our artificial political divide they’re on. Those of us who do the actual work for others do so from a sense of paying for their privileges with their responsibilities (IMO), and tend to look upon those who shirk their responsibilities with jaundiced oculars.

9 01 2014


Your comment on your former financial ills reminds me of my grandfather.

All of those Sons of Mary out there who defer or shirk their
responsibilities in the happy knowledge that someone else
will pick up the slack, take notice- the Sons of Martha are
sick of carrying your load.

JWB was a successful businessman. He decided to buy another business and got taken. Egregiously taken.[ NB NEVER buy a business. Buy the stock, the name, the location. But make sure you are not buying someone else’s debts or liabilities.]

JWB would not take bankruptcy. He worked twenty-five years at a successful business to pay off the debt. And five years later he started having the strokes to which he succumbed.

From his point of view, did JWB do the right thing? He stood on his own. He owed nothing to anybody. All his five children did OK. He even did some secret philanthropy which was only discover after his death. On the other hand all he passed down was heritage and some family heirlooms of little value. And an example of what he believed. Had he taken bankruptcy protection, I would have been raised wealthy. I would also lack the belief I have in my heritage and virtue.

I think Grampa did well.


22 02 2014

Archvillain, An extension.

I have been reading P. G. Wodehouse.The main character, Bertie Wooster, is an unreliable narrator not because he lies, but because he has not the foggiest notion of what is really happening. He is a son of Mary. There is no evil in him. Wooster has a modicum of bravery and an intense desire to do that which he believes to be good. He is a virtuous, affable fool.

The real hero of the series is Wooster’s valet, Jeeves.Almost his entire stated motivation is to provide satisfactory service to those around him. Calamities and disasters – of the sort that haunt upper class twits – are effortlessly turned away by Jeeves. All recognize his brilliance. All esteem him as irreplaceable. Yet, Jeeves is the one who does all the work. Jeeves is a son of Martha much in the spirit of Kipling.

Note well, Jeeves is in service. He works. He cleans. [Presumably Jeeves though the inerrant potato.] But I have no feeling at all that Jeeves would dream of trading places with Wooster. He would view the rich twits for whom he works as less attractive companions than the competent servants whom he fraternizes. He would never accept Spode, Lord Sidcup as an acceptable inferior much less an equal. When something needs done, Jeeves does it. When something speciously seems to be urgent Wooster does it.

9 12 2015
George Christovich

Luke 11:41-42, NKJV
“…Martha Martha, you are worried and troubled by many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Jesus refused to send Mary into the kitchen when she had chosen to hear Jesus teach. He did not excuse her from a life time of work nor did he condemn Martha to a lifetime of solitary labor.

As much as I admire Kipling, he got this one wrong and gave birth to centuries of bad analogies. Worse, for and educated and a military man, his poor analysis has been raised as a shield for ever worsening analysis.

23 12 2015


You’re probably right about Kipling’s take on the subject. He was taking one in a long series of potshots at the class/caste system infecting Great Britain during his lifetime.

It was in that spirit that I wrote the screed in question. I don’t dispute your interpretation of the scripture, or the conclusion you’ve drawn as a result. I just wrote my feelings regarding the entitled class as I perceived it at the time.

BTW, that class of people in the US is not the same one routinely castigated in the fetid exhalations of a certain political party. As always, this is my own personal opinion.

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