Category Archives: history

Next Time, Pay Attention.

When the extra-judicial harassment of drug addicts began, in the 80s, or even back in the 60s, no one cared. “Ew, they’re drug addicts.”

We filled our prisons with young blacks and latinos destroyed by the drug trade, sent our Vietnam vets there, our crack addicts and tweekers. We got used to not caring about them. We hired police and taught them it didn’t matter what they did to those people and their communities.

When the extra-judicial harassment of Arabs began, in the 90s and then many times worse after 9/11, it was, we said, to be expected. “Well, they’re Arabs.”

On a few occasions, I stood outside in a protest of Arab registration in America where a still unknown number of men went into DHS offices, and never came home. We all watched the surveillance and intimidation of Muslim and Arab communities in America, the UK and Europe and said to those governments, it’s ok, because those communities have extremists.

Now the extra-judicial harassment of journalists has begun. And a bunch of folks are saying “How could this happen?”

You’ve been letting it happen and grow for 50 years. Congratulations on noticing. Now do something about it, because you’re next.

 

The Bit I Liked Most

As Ada took me back through the Lord of the Rings.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Such times as these. Transition times, when new things are trying to not be crushed by old. Times like those that Paine said try men’s souls. Times when you can finally understand how people can see the round ups coming, and choose to stand. Drought times of soul and spirit.

Placing the SCUM Manifesto in Historical Context

solanas-socratesMuch has come up lately about the Valerie Solanas’ 1967 radical feminist essay, the SCUM Manifesto. It’s a remarkable read, uncompromising, utopian, and like all good writing, unashamed of being what it is. It is an important piece of writing, and should take its place with the study of literature and ideas. Solanas stands with Pythagoras, Socrates, TS Eliot, and Kant among countless others who put forward theories about the role, origin, and best eventual outcome regarding other members of their societies.

What makes it a good commentary is that it has the feel of many true things in it. But I would ascribe them to what is more commonly called the Patriarchy these days than to the specific genetic condition of maleness, and so for me, that is what makes it not a correct commentary.

I also find the SCUM Manifesto overly utopian, and I am profoundly suspicious of utopias. Like all visions of enforced human improvement, SCUM promulgates a singular vision of human nature, and fails to see more than a binary among womankind. We are not Solanas’ perfect and groovy creatures. If men did not exist, I believe we would have invented them. Ultimately, Solanas’ Manifesto falls to its own assertions. As the superior and only “whole” members of the species, the responsibility for men’s behavior ultimately has to fall on us, like bad tenders of a garden, who let men grow out of control in the first place.

What makes the SCUM Manifesto brilliant isn’t its originality, but its total derivativeness. It echoes countless other manifestos, analyses, philosophical tracts, medical text books, theological arguments, and so on — but from high status men. Many of these men are still regarded with near worship today, like Freud and Kipling. SCUM bears the impression of Charles Dickens, and St Thomas Aquinas. It has more than passing similarities to the ideas of Confucius and the holy texts of the Hindu faith.

It’s just that it’s pointed up the power chain, instead of down. These ideas about inferiority, genetic, intellectual, and spiritual, aren’t new. They’ve been used as justifications to deny meaningful lives to women and low status men by the billions for centuries. I want to point that out again: billions of people for thousands of years.

I’m not going to say Valerie Solanas wasn’t nuts. She clearly was. She shot Andy Warhol. She was also just nuts, there’s no getting around Solanas being not being a very good or well person. I’m happy to leave Solanas to history as unfortunate and somewhat nasty. But on one condition: all the other people who promulgated the same ideas are just as nasty and unreasonable. Solanas goes into a looney bin of horrors. But all those beloved, male, white, or whatever the dominant ethnicity of the place and era, those intellectuals, leaders, and spiritual men of history, even the ones I love, have to go in there too.

Everything they wrote doesn’t have to go in there with them. I still love Kipling and Hemingway, despite the White Man’s Burden and, well, everything Hemingway ever did. I love The Hollow Men, I love the Scholars, I love many things that never pass any variation of the Bechdel Test. But if men’s work, replete in their strange and incidental hatreds get to stay out of the bin of shunned horrors, so does the SCUM Manifesto. Surely any writing that can clearly show that a swath of great thinkers of history were demonstrably insane and cruel belongs among the great writings, even if insane and cruel itself.

From Alexis de Tocqueville to Now

It’s an interesting time to be reading Democracy in America, for not the least reason to see how new forms of self organization are adapted to when they emerge on the scene, as I believe is the case now. It’s also a painful reminder of how much things have changed, how a new de Tocqueville would mourn late modern America as he did his own Europe.

A excerpt from Chapter Five on the centralization of government has a painful sting to it:

In certain countries of Europe the natives consider themselves as a kind of settlers, indifferent to the fate of the spot upon which they live… the citizen is unconcerned as to the condition of his village, the police of his street, the repairs of the church or of the parsonage; for he looks upon all these things as unconnected with himself, and as the property of a powerful stranger whom he calls the Government. He has only a life-interest in these possessions, and he entertains no notions of ownership or of improvement. This want of interest in his own affairs goes so far that, if his own safety or that of his children is endangered, instead of trying to avert the peril, he will fold his arms, and wait till the nation comes to his assistance… When a nation has arrived at this state it must either change its customs and its laws or perish: the source of public virtue is dry, and, though it may contain subjects, the race of citizens is extinct. Such communities are a natural prey to foreign conquests, and if they do not disappear from the scene of life, it is because they are surrounded by other nations similar or inferior to themselves…

The European generally submits to a public officer because he represents a superior force; but to an American he represents a right…. In America the means which the authorities have at their disposal for the discovery of crimes and the arrest of criminals are few. The State police does not exist, and passports are unknown. The criminal police of the United States cannot be compared to that of France; the magistrates and public prosecutors are not numerous, and the examinations of prisoners are rapid and oral. Nevertheless in no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is, that every one conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the act committed, and in stopping the delinquent.

In wider context from more of it, the sting goes deeper.

In certain countries of Europe the natives consider themselves as a kind of settlers, indifferent to the fate of the spot upon which they live. The greatest changes are effected without their concurrence and (unless chance may have apprised them of the event) without their knowledge; nay more, the citizen is unconcerned as to the condition of his village, the police of his street, the repairs of the church or of the parsonage; for he looks upon all these things as unconnected with himself, and as the property of a powerful stranger whom he calls the Government. He has only a life-interest in these possessions, and he entertains no notions of ownership or of improvement. This want of interest in his own affairs goes so far that, if his own safety or that of his children is endangered, instead of trying to avert the peril, he will fold his arms, and wait till the nation comes to his assistance. This same individual, who has so completely sacrificed his own free will, has no natural propensity to obedience; he cowers, it is true, before the pettiest officer; but he braves the law with the spirit of a conquered foe as soon as its superior force is removed: his oscillations between servitude and license are perpetual. When a nation has arrived at this state it must either change its customs and its laws or perish: the source of public virtue is dry, and, though it may contain subjects, the race of citizens is extinct. Such communities are a natural prey to foreign conquests, and if they do not disappear from the scene of life, it is because they are surrounded by other nations similar or inferior to themselves: it is because the instinctive feeling of their country’s claims still exists in their hearts; and because an involuntary pride in the name it bears, or a vague reminiscence of its bygone fame, suffices to give them the impulse of self-preservation.

Nor can the prodigious exertions made by tribes in the defence of a country to which they did not belong be adduced in favor of such a system; for it will be found that in these cases their main incitement was religion. The permanence, the glory, or the prosperity of the nation were become parts of their faith, and in defending the country they inhabited they defended that Holy City of which they were all citizens. The Turkish tribes have never taken an active share in the conduct of the affairs of society, but they accomplished stupendous enterprises as long as the victories of the Sultan were the triumphs of the Mohammedan faith. In the present age they are in rapid decay, because their religion is departing, and despotism only remains. Montesquieu, who attributed to absolute power an authority peculiar to itself, did it, as I conceive, an undeserved honor; for despotism, taken by itself, can produce no durable results. On close inspection we shall find that religion, and not fear, has ever been the cause of the long-lived prosperity of an absolute government. Whatever exertions may be made, no true power can be founded among men which does not depend upon the free union of their inclinations; and patriotism and religion are the only two motives in the world which can permanently direct the whole of a body politic to one end…

The European generally submits to a public officer because he represents a superior force; but to an American he represents a right. In America it may be said that no one renders obedience to man, but to justice and to law. If the opinion which the citizen entertains of himself is exaggerated, it is at least salutary; he unhesitatingly confides in his own powers, which appear to him to be all-sufficient. When a private individual meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be with the welfare of society, he never thinks of soliciting the co-operation of the Government, but he publishes his plan, offers to execute it himself, courts the assistance of other individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles. Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have been in his position; but in the end the sum of these private undertakings far exceeds all that the Government could have done.

As the administrative authority is within the reach of the citizens, whom it in some degree represents, it excites neither their jealousy nor their hatred; as its resources are limited, every one feels that he must not rely solely on its assistance. Thus, when the administration thinks fit to interfere, it is not abandoned to itself as in Europe; the duties of the private citizens are not supposed to have lapsed because the State assists in their fulfilment, but every one is ready, on the contrary, to guide and to support it. This action of individual exertions, joined to that of the public authorities, frequently performs what the most energetic central administration would be unable to execute. It would be easy to adduce several facts in proof of what I advance, but I had rather give only one, with which I am more thoroughly acquainted. In America the means which the authorities have at their disposal for the discovery of crimes and the arrest of criminals are few. The State police does not exist, and passports are unknown. The criminal police of the United States cannot be compared to that of France; the magistrates and public prosecutors are not numerous, and the examinations of prisoners are rapid and oral. Nevertheless in no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is, that every one conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the act committed, and in stopping the delinquent. During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous formation of committees for the pursuit and prosecution of a man who had committed a great crime in a certain county. In Europe a criminal is an unhappy being who is struggling for his life against the ministers of justice, whilst the population is merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him…

On the other hand, I am convinced that democratic nations are most exposed to fall beneath the yoke of a central administration, for several reasons, amongst which is the following. The constant tendency of these nations is to concentrate all the strength of the Government in the hands of the only power which directly represents the people, because beyond the people nothing is to be perceived but a mass of equal individuals confounded together. But when the same power is already in possession of all the attributes of the Government, it can scarcely refrain from penetrating into the details of the administration, and an opportunity of doing so is sure to present itself in the end, as was the case in France. In the French Revolution there were two impulses in opposite directions, which must never be confounded — the one was favorable to liberty, the other to despotism. Under the ancient monarchy the King was the sole author of the laws, and below the power of the sovereign certain vestiges of provincial institutions, half destroyed, were still distinguishable. These provincial institutions were incoherent, ill compacted, and frequently absurd; in the hands of the aristocracy they had sometimes been converted into instruments of oppression. The Revolution declared itself the enemy of royalty and of provincial institutions at the same time; it confounded all that had preceded it — despotic power and the checks to its abuses — in indiscriminate hatred, and its tendency was at once to overthrow and to centralize. This double character of the French Revolution is a fact which has been adroitly handled by the friends of absolute power. Can they be accused of laboring in the cause of despotism when they are defending that central administration which was one of the great innovations of the Revolution? In this manner popularity may be conciliated with hostility to the rights of the people, and the secret slave of tyranny may be the professed admirer of freedom.

Alas and good night, you great experiment.

Remarkable to Look Back

And sad. President Clinton was a impressively smart man, and in this interview he shows it off in spades, able to call to mind statistics and rationales for policies without any aid. He’s a statesman, in the most classic sense of the word. And Amy Goodman is a journalist, in the best sense of that word.

But I think what is most remarkable looking back on his words 13 years later, is that everything he talked about is worse, under both the Republicans and the Democrats. That the gains he crowed were illusory, the economy he pinned so many hopes on had been a pyramid balanced on its tip that could last only so long. The reforms to come he spoke of weren’t just abandoned by the opposition, but by his own party, after he had deferred them himself, always “waiting on reports.” Everything, every single point he made, however elegantly made by this most skilled of politicians and speakers, every course of action he talked about, has all ended in total failure. From ending racial profiling (which Hillary was working on in New York) to New York’s shameful Stop and Frisk, unemployment is of course ridiculously high, schools failing, racism worse, healthcare costs higher than ever, Mexico is a basket case, the private prison system has reinstated slavery largely based on race. Cuba is still under embargo. Since them we’ve gotten black sites, Gitmo, endless wars. We’ve gone from secretive banking corruption to openly refusing to enforce the law against the masters of our economy, who commit fraud routinely, while violently suppressing the growing dissent on the streets. The failure of this system is so total that only insanity can still profess faith in it.

And not only is Leonard Peltier still in jail, this Democratic president has matched his unprecedented secrecy and persecution of whistleblowers with absolutely no pardons.

Amy Goodman is still doing good work, though.

We are Free

“The state can’t give you free speech and the state can’t give it away, we know that. You’re born with it, like your eyes, and your ears. Like old Campbell used to say, ‘Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.’”

When Copyright was Serious F****** Business

Via Patry, Albrecht Dürer’s idea of a copyright notice:

Hold! You crafty ones, strangers to work, and pilferers of other men’s brains. Think not rashly to lay your thievish hands upon my works. Beware! Know you not that I have a grant from the most glorious Emperor Maximillian, that not one throughout the imperial dominion shall be allowed to print or sell fictitious imitations of these engravings? Listen! And bear in mind that if you do so, through spite or through covetousness, not only will your goods be confiscated, but your bodies also placed in mortal danger.

But that to my mind still doesn’t have quite the stinging crazyjuice of this copyright warning specifically for Jews in Venice, circa 1623:

We have agreed to the reasonable and proper request of the worthy and honored Master Salamon Rossi of Mantua (may his Rock keep and save him) who has become by his painstaking labors the first man to print Hebrew music. He has laid out a large disbursement which has not been provided for, and it is not proper that anyone should harm him by reprinting similar copies or purchasing them from a source other than himself. Therefore, having seen the license granted by His Excellence, the Cattavero (may his glory by exalted), we the undersigned decree by the authority of the angels and the world of the holy ones, invoking the curse of the serpent’s bite, that no Israelite, wherever he may be, may print the music contained in this work in any manner, in whole or in part, without the permission of the above-mentioned author or his heirs for a period of fifteen years from this date. Nor is any Jew permitted under the terms of this decree to buy from any person, whether he be of our nation or not, any of these works without the permission of the above-mentioned author, who is to indicate by some special mark that he has consented to their sale by another party. Let every Israelite hearken and stand in fear of being entrapped by this ban and curse. And those who hearken will dwell in confidence and ease, abiding in blessing under the shelter of the Almighty. Amen.

Seriously, the curse of the serpent’s bite sounds like the baddest-ass DRM evar.