Tuesday, December 30, 2014

So long 2014

Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last resort of the boob and the bigot
(Eugene O'Neil, playwright)

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
(Alan Turing, mathematician)

We live in capitalism. It's power seems inescapable. So did the divine rights of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.
(Ursula K. Guin, writer)

“With a little help from my friends”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A small Christmas present for non-humans

Considering how we humans in general treat each other, it's not surprising how we deal with non-humans. But now perhaps one small step in human behavior, but much more to be done.

Argentina: Court grants orangutan basic rights

Monday, December 15, 2014

White America's secret, part 3

“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam...”
(poem and song published in 1870s)

Round em up, round them up

The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of the American Western. It was also one of our most popular exports. Television shows like Bonanza, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Have Gun, Will Travel and Maverick were among the most highly rated programs on television. I recently watched the 1959 TV pilot of Rawhide, where Clint Eastwood made his first appearance, about cowboys on a cattle drive.

It's quintessentially American … sort of. Stoic white men and go-it-alone kind of guys solve problems, protect children and the women folk and aren't afraid to use their guns, which of course are omnipresent. This view was in fact part of the West but only one small part, the part that has always been most comfortable to white people, who decided how the West “was won.”

The real story is of course much broader, much more ambiguous and oftentimes far darker, literally and figuratively, and the laconic lone cowboy was more often than not an unremarkable cog in a much bigger system. It is also about how large corporations and politicians first colluded on a large scale to plunder the resources of the West and where the ends justified the means.

The state of Idaho is sponsoring a Killing Competition on National Forest Lands. The contestants will be competing for cash prizes. The prizes go to those that kill the most wolves, coyotes and other wild life. To paraphrase Rap Brown, blood lust “is as American as cherry pie.”Yeah, it's about continued disrespect and disconnect but more important it's about mass delusion.

It's part of an old story about taming the frontier. Ranching interests today in the western states are the ones behind most of the shooting, trapping and poisoning of millions of animals. Ranchers drove the Mexican gray wolf to extinction and continually oppose any recovery efforts. Grazing on public lands has threatened or endangered hundreds of species, and thousands of miles of rivers have been polluted by livestock waste

Politicians in the western states love to talk about their Libertarian roots and how they are the “true” protectors of the environment and the authentic America. It's once again about white America making up stuff on a grand scale. No doubt many of these characters and their constituents actually believe the claptrap they utter—but why wouldn't they.

I hear the chickens are coming home

“You didn't hear about the terrorists planning to blow up the subway in Paris?” I had not. “Do you think it's safe to fly to New York”? I said I thought it was perfectly safe.

We had one of the lowest voter turnouts in years (36%) for our recent mid-term elections, terrible even by the dismal American standard, yet some $3.6 billion was spent to “buy the election.” The low voter turnout wasn't because of widespread contentment among the citizenry. But who did vote were the older, whiter, wealthier and more conservative voters. And who they voted into office at both the national and state level will guarantee all of us “interesting times” come January 2015.

I suspect the next two years will be unpleasant for a great many Americans, especially for those of us that don't want to revisit the 1950s let alone the nostalgic era of President William McKinley, 1897-1901.

“What do those people want?” “You ought to open an account in the Caymans, only the ignorant pay more taxes than they should.” “Stopping the system of dependency in this country is the most important thing we can do.” “We're the real victims.” “Next time we'll have a President who is, well, you know.”

I happened to run across a particular group of tennis players this past summer, who I ended up playing with periodically. They were white men, all over the age of 55, middle class, some of whom were retired … engineers, business types, one or two had worked in the public sector, with grown children and grandchildren. I listened to what they had to say.

They were a subset of white America but have always been an influential constituency and certain about their place in the order of things, until recently. It's about a world they know that seems to be now unraveling, difficult for many of them to comprehend. The television and radio info-entertainers tell them that, while they're in the right, they also ought to be afraid—of virtually everything. And they are resisting the inevitable changes, sometimes mindlessly.

Friday, December 12, 2014

White America's secret, part 2

Men, women and children were piled up on that little flat in one confused mass. Blood ran like water ...
Big Foot's band was converted into good Indians.
(A soldier who participated in The Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890)

A lust for conquest had already destroyed the Great Republic, because trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home.
(Mark Twain, during U.S. conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1902 )

Verscharfte Vernehmung [Enhanced Interrogation]
(The Gestapo's Methods of Examination, from a directive by the Gestapo chief, Muller, 1937)

Mohammed was also subjected to rectal rehydration 'without a determination of medical need.' Mohammed's chief interrogator described use of the process as emblematic of their 'total control over the detainee.'
(excerpt from Senate report on CIA torture, December 2014)

Um-m, before post-racial America

Approximately 20 Africans arrived in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, but we think they were treated as indentured servants. Some supposedly achieved their freedom and became property owners. A lot of historians cite John Punch who, in July 1640, became the first official slave in the English colonies, supposedly because he decided to leave his employer before he'd finished his indentured servitude. The two white men that left with Punch had their servitude extended for a few years unlike Punch, who was placed in permanent bondage for the remainder of his life, with no rights. He became human property.

The “formal institution” of slavery was a gradual process and it took another 150 years or so before it was thoroughly and “legally” entrenched into the fabric of the entire country. Edward Baptist, professor of history at Cornell, has written an economic history of slavery, entitled The Half Has Never Been Told.

Many American history texts have portrayed slavery as a marginal system in the South, a relic of feudalism and perpetrated by a handful of landowners, with many slaves often becoming part of the slave owner’s family or variations of this relatively benign theme. I certainly have known a number of white southerners, who were far from being ignorant racist troglodytes or in any way thought slavery was “not all that bad,” but who still cling to some version of the Gone with the Wind nonsense.

The “war of northern aggression,” as some white southerners still today call the American Civil War, was not about slavery, but was about state's rights. This is a belief still offered by far too many. It is why Baptist's book is an important contribution in sweeping away the illusions of many white Americans and better understanding the very long legacy of slavery, that is far from being a relic of the past. Go to Hate Map to see where some of these groups reside at the present time.

According to Professor Baptist, America's rise to power ( and white privilege ) was very much connected to black slaves. It is a story about global capitalism and where “personal” property superseded all other rights. It most definitely was not a marginal system practiced by a few backwater southern plantation owners. In fact, Baptist doesn't speak of plantations but of slave labor camps. Think of Stalin's Gulags, North Korea's labor camps, and Nazi concentration camps. Work Sets You Free—Arbeit Macht Frei.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865 some 4 million former slaves were set free. Eight million whites in the South, overwhelmingly poor, landless and illiterate, thought of black people as competitors. White southerners were easily manipulated. By 1874 white power in the South had regained control, and the North had lost interest in Reconstruction. We had the West to now “civilize” and for some there was a lot of money to be made. Above all we now understood industrial warfare after the carnage of the Civil War..


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

White America's secret, part 1

We must delight in each other, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.
(“A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop, leading figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630)

No ancient empire has risen or mouldered away within these limits. Except the red man, of doubtful origin and melancholy fate, America has no “surviving memorials of the past.”
(History of New Hampshire, George Barstow, 1858)

It would soon become the greatest mass slaughter of warm-blooded animals in human history. In Kansas alone the bones of thirty-one million buffalo were sold for fertilizer between 1868 and 1881.
(from Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C.Gwynne)

A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.
W.E.B. DuBois

Violence is as American as cherry pie.
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin [H. Rap Brown], 1960s

All a man needed was a horse, a gun and the open land, and he could conquer the world.
(attributed to U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 2014)

Vacuum domicilium

My favorite time to visit Cape Cod, the section of Massachusetts that juts out into the ocean, had always been in the fall, when the tourists had long gone and the beaches were deserted. It was the emptiness that I liked, watching the Atlantic Ocean crash onto the shore. It was easier to imagine so much.

That same ocean crashed onto the beaches when my ancestors landed in November of 1620—cold, miserable, frightened yet believing fervently in their stern religion and that they were the chosen people of God, about to establish the New Jerusalem.

To these early Pilgrims and Puritans, this New Jerusalem was deserted! It was vacuum domicilium, meaning “vacant dwelling.” It didn't fit the traditional English characteristic.”Unimproved” lands without any clear title were simply available.

Right away the views of the Indians and the Europeans regarding “property” were ultimately irreconcilable. For the newcomers, title was available for the first occupant who would clear the land, build on it, garden, farm and permanently inhabit the property. Property for Europeans meant power and virtually no one in Europe had any in the seventeenth century. And there was so much land for the taking and so few white people to take it, arguably the most fertile region on the planet. We had to be the chosen people.

Back in 2005 I wrote an article entitled A Druid Nation. I asked the question whether or not it would have been different if someone other than the Puritans had established settlements in America.

A clear duality exists in this country. My Puritan relatives were not Libertarians, contrary to some of the more fanciful views of white conservatives today. In the beginning it was about shared responsibility and community norms. It was also about obeying God's laws … as interpreted by the leaders of the community. William Jenkyn the Puritan martyr, who died in Newgate Prison in London, said that, “As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst.”

While the Puritan communitarian strain pretty much dominated the settling of the “new” world, the secular influence of the European Enlightenment dominated the founding of the United States.

On Thomas Jefferson's tomb nothing is written about being the third president of the United States. What we see is that he was the author of the Declaration of American Independence, the Father of the University of Virginia and, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. The state, in Jefferson's eyes, had no business in proselytizing religious views.

We white people have been mixing, matching, justifying and making stuff up from the very beginning.