The Great Reprimitivization

Welcome along to the forty-sixth audio adventure in our series Tales for Our Time: Jack London’s novella of 1912, The Scarlet Plague. As I mention in my introduction, this one first popped up on our list of potential serializations a year or so back because it was about a sudden new virus that unravels the world. But, of course, Covid as such did not unravel the world: our rulers’ reaction to it did, and continues to do so in Michigan, Ontario, France, Germany and elsewhere.

Yet The Scarlet Plague isn’t about the plague, it’s about re-primitivization. As I point out in my introduction to tonight’s tale, that word comes courtesy of Robert D Kaplan a quarter-century back in The Atlantic Monthly: in a widely-read essay on the implosion of once functioning states as Somalia, he referred to the “citizens” of such “states” as “re-primitivized man”.

But why should re-primitivization remain confined to the far fringes? In the years since he floated the concept, Kaplan’s “re-primitivized man” seems to have gotten a lot closer. And, ultimately, with the right combination of factors, there’s no reason why we should be any more immune to it than Somalia. In the first episode of The Scarlet Plague an old man who remembers the world before its collapse bemoans the loss of big things (like fully expressive language) and small:

He snuffled and muttered and mumbled, making almost a croon of delight, as he began to eat. Of this the boys took little notice, for it was an accustomed spectacle. Nor did they notice his occasional exclamations and utterances of phrases which meant nothing to them, as, for instance, when he smacked his lips and champed his gums while muttering: “Mayonnaise! Just think—mayonnaise! And it’s sixty years since the last was ever made! Two generations and never a smell of it! Why, in those days it was served in every restaurant with crab.”

In a re-primitivized world, everyone holds the mayo. To hear the first part of The Scarlet Plague, prefaced by my own introduction, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.

I hope you’ll enjoy this audio serialization of Jack London with a difference, but, if a year of lockdown, looting and ‘lections have left you pining for lighter fare, we have plenty of cheerier escapist yarns, including Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, and P G Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist – oh, and a certain other fellow’s The Prisoner of Windsor. Tales for Our Time in all its variety is both highly relevant and a welcome detox from the madness of the hour: almost four years’ worth of my audio adaptations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko. To access them all, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. We’ve introduced a similar tile format for my Sunday Poems and also for our audio and video music specials.

We launched The Mark Steyn Club almost four years ago, and I’m overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who’ve signed up to be a part of it – from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn’t for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone.

That said, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including our monthly audio adventures by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, Gogol, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Louis Stevenson – plus a couple of pieces of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here. We’re very pleased by the response to our Tales – and we even do them live on our annual Mark Steyn Cruise, sailing this autumn, and sometimes with special guests.

I’m truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras these last near four years has been our nightly radio serials. If you’ve enjoyed them and you’re looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you’ll consider our special Club Gift Membership. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:

~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The chance to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly, such as last Thursday’s;
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark’s Mailbox, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry;
~Booking for special members-only events, such as The Mark Steyn Christmas Show, assuming such events are ever again lawful;
~Priority booking for the next Mark Steyn Cruise;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world, assuming “live appearances” become a thing once more;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the opportunity to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.

To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here – and don’t forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you’ll get access not only to The Scarlet Plague but to all the other yarns gathered together at the Tales for Our Time home page.

One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, if you think my audio realization of Jack London ought to make me scarlet with embarassment, feel free to have at it. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Scarlet Plague.

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