Sunday, February 19, 2017
How a Ruthless Network of Super-Rich Ideologues Killed Choice and Destroyed People’s Faith in Politics
George Monbiot in Evonomics:
The events that led to Donald Trump’s election started in England in 1975. At a meeting a few months after Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party, one of her colleagues, or so the story goes, was explaining what he saw as the core beliefs of conservatism. She snapped open her handbag, pulled out a dog-eared book, and slammed it on the table. “This is what we believe,” she said. A political revolution that would sweep the world had begun.
The book was The Constitution of Liberty by Frederick Hayek. Its publication, in 1960, marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy to an outright racket. The philosophy was called neoliberalism. It saw competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. The market would discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers, creating a more efficient system than could ever be devised through planning or by design. Anything that impeded this process, such as significant tax, regulation, trade union activity or state provision, was counter-productive. Unrestricted entrepreneurs would create the wealth that would trickle down to everyone.
This, at any rate, is how it was originally conceived. But by the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, the network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. Not every aspect of the neoliberal programme advanced their interests. Hayek, it seems, set out to close the gap.
Lydialyle Gibson in Harvard Magazine:
What causes aging? “Scientists have been thinking about this question for centuries,” says Harvard professor of medicine Vadim Gladyshev. It sounds almost simple, but in fact it’s thorny and complicated, and although several theories have emerged—that organisms are “programmed” by nature to die, or that aging is the result of “hyperfunction” of biological activities, or that it’s controlled by genetics—there are as yet no settled answers. But a study published today in Science Advances, coauthored by Gladyshev, offers evidence bolstering one long-held theory: that aging is caused, at least in part, by molecular damage accumulating in the cells. “This damage is generated by nearly every cellular process,” he says—by the work of enzymes and proteins and the life-sustaining metabolic processes that occur at every level of complexity, from simple molecules and cell components to whole cells and entire organs. “So over time we have many, many ‘damage forms,’ millions or billions”—unavoidable byproducts of enzyme function, for example, or of protein-to-protein interactions, errors in DNA transcription or translation. “And as a function of age, they accumulate.” Eventually, it’s more than the body can cope with.
...“Aging is the most important biological question.” It is at the root of so many diseases. “Even if we eliminate cancer, for example, the effect would be minor, because of all the other diseases of aging: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, sarcopenia, cardiovascular disease, and so on and so on.” All of those maladies will still add up. “But if we can learn how to slow down the aging process, we can deal with all of those diseases at once. We delay their appearance. That’s why it’s important to study these fundamental questions, to ask: what is aging?”
John Williams in The New York Times:
Black History Month this year brings with it a significant addition to the history of African-American literature: “Amiable With Big Teeth,” a “lost” novel by the notable Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay. In 2009, Jean-Christophe Cloutier, now an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, was working toward his Ph.D. at Columbia University when he came across a double-spaced manuscript that appeared to be by McKay among the archived papers of Samuel Roth, a publisher who had often found himself in First Amendment battles. When The Times reported on the manuscript’s authentication in 2012, the writer and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said McKay’s lost novel was important, in part, for the way it extended our view of the Harlem Renaissance, which “continued to be vibrant and creative and turned its focus to international issues” as the 1930s progressed.
“Amiable With Big Teeth” — with a subtitle equal to its wonderful title (“A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem”) — is about a group of activists in that neighborhood who banded together to support Ethiopia against Mussolini’s occupation. In their introduction, Cloutier and Brent Hayes Edwards call the book a “caustic, even overtly polemical, depiction of the complex Harlem political landscape in the mid-1930s as it shifted in the shadow of international events.”
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Caryl Emerson in the TLS:
Perhaps the first thing a reader senses about a crisis-narrative is where the writer stands in time. Either the speaking voice has survived and can look back, or else it is caught on the cusp of the unfolding event. This is the difference between a memoir and a diary entry, the recollection of a dream and the experience of nightmare. In this anthology, Boris Dralyuk attempts a bold thing: to confirm us within the belly of the beast, to push us up against its heartbeat, all the while challenging the received notion that the Russian Revolution produced little literary art of lasting value in its early years. The work of fourteen poets and thirteen prose writers – some famous, others forgotten, several famous for other things – is sampled strictly within a two-and-a-half-year period, from the February Revolution that ended the Romanov dynasty to late 1919, the turning point of the Russian Civil War. The literature produced during these thirty-two months was without perspective, full of potentials and unclear about actuals. In his opening remarks to the prose section, Dralyuk notes that “fictional treatments of the upheaval are hard to find” because what was happening “was too real, too immediate to lend itself to fictionalization”. Verse and expository prose, with their intonations of “direct engagement”, seem more compatible with the revolutionary temperament than the more leisurely composition of stories. But such formal distinctions matter less than we expect. Both verse and prose in this book partake heavily of fable, parable, liberation rhetoric, ecstatic vision – modes that operate beyond literary genre, outside time, and that strive towards a truth prior to either history or fiction.
Thus narrowed and blind-sided, freed from tragic consequence, the paradoxes of 1917 emerge even more unanswerable. Revolutions bring bloodshed and impoverishment, but this one was to bring peace and plenty: an end to the Great War, to all war. As Mikhail Kuzmin writes in his poem “Russian Revolution” (1917): “No sentinel, policemen, pickets, / as if there never had been any guards or guns . . . . It’s like telling a starving man, ‘Eat!’ / And him replying. ‘I’m eating!’ with a smile”. The present-tense verb is proof that we are on the cusp; as-if becomes is. Most revolutions aim at political regime change, but this one saw itself enacting universal all-human change. As Alexander Blok insists in 1918, its music must be greeted with “every cell of your body”. The body politic is my body, your body. Politics becomes intimate; deeply private lyric poets create great civic verse. Blok’s masterworks from 1918, “The Twelve” and “Scythians”, very famous poems in outstanding new translations here, show the anthology at its eschatological best. Blok’s pretensions are millennial and stretch out over a continent, but the reader is left with palpable close-up images, the face of “slit-eyed” Eurasianism and marauding Red Guardists blessed by Jesus Christ. As the revolutionary capital is sanctified by its native poets it is cursed from the margins. The Georgian Symbolist Titsian Tabidze (1895–1937) contributes a lyric, “Petersburg”, that celebrates the sinking of the Bronze Horseman, the corpses of sailors bobbing in the Neva, and chaos swallowing up the city. Poetry rejects the well-plotted story and transmits moods: of exhilaration, of destruction, of eating this very minute after a long fast. Life gains in its savour and death loses its sting. Indeed, why die at all? As Mayakovsky bellows forth in “Our March” (December 1917): “Hey you there! Yes, you, Great Bear! / Demand we be taken to heaven alive”.
Dani Rodrik in Project Syndicate:
Last October, British Prime Minister Theresa May shocked many when she disparaged the idea of global citizenship. “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she said, “you’re a citizen of nowhere.”
analyst lectured her, “is one dedicated not only to the wellbeing of a Berkshire parish, say, but to the planet.” The Economist called it an “illiberal” turn. A scholar accused her of repudiating Enlightenment values and warned of “echoes of 1933” in her speech.Her statement was met with derision and alarm in the financial media and among liberal commentators. “The most useful form of citizenship these days,” one
I know what a “global citizen” looks like: I see a perfect specimen every time I pass a mirror. I grew up in one country, live in another, and carry the passports of both. I write on global economics, and my work takes me to far-flung places. I spend more time traveling in other countries than I do within either country that claims me as a citizen.
Most of my close colleagues at work are similarly foreign-born. I devour international news, while my local paper remains unopened most weeks. In sports, I have no clue how my home teams are doing, but I am a devoted fan of a football team on the other side of the Atlantic.
And yet May’s statement strikes a chord. It contains an essential truth – the disregard of which says much about how we – the world’s financial, political, and technocratic elite – distanced ourselves from our compatriots and lost their trust.
defines it as “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth.” Hence citizenship presumes an established polity – “a state or commonwealth” – of which one is a member. Countries have such polities; the world does not.Start first with the actual meaning of the word “citizen.” The Oxford English Dictionary
Proponents of global citizenship quickly concede that they do not have a literal meaning in mind. They are thinking figuratively. Technological revolutions in communications and economic globalization have brought citizens of different countries together, they argue. The world has shrunk, and we must act bearing the global implications in mind. And besides, we all carry multiple, overlapping identities. Global citizenship does not – and need not – crowd out parochial or national responsibilities.
All well and good. But what do global citizens really do?
Adam Tooze over at his website:
Trump and the possibility of Trump may have brought down the curtain on American hegemony, but American power remains. Nowhere is this more evidently the case than with regard to the global currency regime. The dollar not only remains but is more than ever the anchor of the global financial system. The Economist has an excellent piece on the resulting risks, which draws on an important new paper by Ilzetki, Reinhart and Rogoff (Yes! Them again).
As The Economist puts it: “TRUMPISM is in part an expression of American exhaustion at bearing burdens it first took up 70 years ago. Donald Trump has moaned less about the dollar than about shirking NATO allies or cheating trade partners. Yet the dollar standard is one of the most vulnerable pillars of global stability. And the world is far from ready for America to ditch its global financial role. Unlike other aspects of American hegemony, the dollar has grown more important as the world has globalised, not less. … America wields enormous financial power as a result. It can wreak havoc by withholding supplies of dollars in a crisis. When the Federal Reserve tweaks monetary policy, the effects ripple across the global economy.
The dollar is central as an anchor for other currencies that are pegged to it. It is central as the currency in which key commodities like oil are priced. It is the main currency in which countries hold their reserves. It is the main currency of international lending.
What the Ilzetki, Reinhart and Rogoff paper allows us to do is to track the ebb and flow of the dollar’s functioning in the global economy over time and across space.
In the years after 1945 when the US was overwhelmingly the dominant economy in the world with a share of global output of 28 %, the dollar was also the lead currency with the currencies of 75 % of world economy (measured in GDP terms) anchored to the dollar. Since then America’s share of global output has declined to 18 % and in the 1970s the share of global GDP anchored to the dollar fell to 45 %. But since the 1970s the share of currencies anchored to the dollar increased again, reaching 75 % in 2015. This is what analysts mean when they say that we live in the era of a second Bretton Woods, created not by design but by the unilateral anchoring of other currencies to the dollar.
Video length: 6:39
While the verbal music of Pushkin’s verse-novel “Eugene Onegin” is said to be untranslatable — despite impressive attempts in English by Charles Johnston and James E. Falen — his stories are typically set down in a plain, direct style that almost recalls Hemingway. As Pevear notes, the five “Tales of Belkin” are “as unpoetic, as purely narrative, as possible. They have no commentary, no psychology, no ideas, no flights of rhetoric or authorial digressions. They are cast as local anecdotes, and are told so simply and artlessly that at first one barely notices the subtlety of their composition, the shifts in time and point of view, the reversals of expectation, the elements of parody, the ambiguity of their resolutions.”
Consider, for example, “The Shot,” which opens in a backwater town, where a group of bored army officers spends long evenings playing cards. Their host is a quiet 35-year-old civilian of modest means, who devotes his days to pistol practice. Silvio has grown so expert that he now aims at buzzing flies as they land on the wall of his room. He never misses.
One drunken night over a misunderstanding at cards, a newly arrived officer insults this sharpshooter. To everyone’s surprise, Silvio doesn’t challenge him to a duel. Why not? It turns out that six years earlier, while in the army, he had quarreled with a rich, aristocratic fellow officer and nothing less than pistols at dawn would settle the affront. In an extraordinary passage, Silvio recalls that his adversary was late for their rencontre.
The first readers of Middlemarch in 1872 therefore looked back at Casaubon across a vast intellectual gulf. Understanding of humankind and its place in time had been transformed in a generation. It is perhaps surprising that Kidd makes no direct reference to Lyell or Darwin, but in fairness they made at first no fundamental difference. The mythography of the mid-Victorians continued to absorb the discoveries of archaeologists in Nineveh and Egypt, of explorers and scientists within an overarching theory of “development”. In theology, in the architecture of the gothic revival, as well as mythography and geology, creation could be presented as the immensely slow unfolding of what was, nevertheless, a divine plan. It allowed for cultural evolution, of primitive societies evolving towards Christianity. “Development” defended the breach until the year beforeMiddlemarch. In 1871 Darwin’s The Descent of Man overturned the concept of humanity as a unique creation, distinct from the animals. After that, development was doomed.
So mythography as a subject finally died at the end of the 19th century, or rather it dissolved into the ectoplasmic haze of theosophy, and echoed faintly in the new, secular anthropology. James Frazer’s popular The Golden Bough (1890) explained myth as a primitive stage from which society progressed, passing through religion and arriving at last at science.
There is an unfortunate shortage of grotesquerie in literary criticism. Prudish intellect has somehow muscled the burping body from the realm of books, as if we do not read and write, too, through the revelations and failures of our flesh. The grand critics have already assembled in holy raiment—Trilling, Wilson, Kermode, Ozick, Wood—to lay a white cloth over the roughly hewn table of literature, smoothing over its splinters, its sap. While of obvious merit, their collected work is, in itself, something like a history of manners: spotless, chaste, the well-planed beams of a gleaming critical edifice. This is not necessarily a knock against them (I read much of their work with admiration); call it rather a lingering desire for something supplementary, a meaner model, runny as an egg or rich as butter, words to stain lips and lapels, to pass gas (as Gass’s does), flippant, bloated, savage, overcooked but rarely overwrought: a criticism of both gut and guile. Such a mode would, of course, need its exemplar, its Falstaff, comingler of erudition and eructation. Such a mode, finally, needed only Stanley Elkin.
Though perhaps we should pluralize that to Elkins, his guises being both potent and plentiful: pomo pervert, stand-up comic, sword-swallower, scamp, glutton, scribe, and oracle (to name but a few). Pieces of Soap, then—the recent, exhaustive Elkin collection from Tin House—is a necessarily lurid and lurching thing, a foaming cauldron of culture, a kind of bacchanal in which the master of ceremonies is soused but never sentimental. Cutting a broad swath across thematic concerns—California, Schnitzler, the tuxedo, multiple sclerosis, the future of the novel—Elkin’s essays swerve gorgeously before he allows them to soar: in riffs, in rages, in tangents spinning out like silken thread to pile on the floor.
Ruby Bridges: the first African-American child to attend an all-white public elementary school in the American South
On the morning of November 14, 1960, federal marshals drove Ruby and her mother five blocks to her new school. While in the car, one of the men explained that when they arrived at the school, two marshals would walk in front of Ruby and two would be behind her. The image of this small black girl being escorted to school by four large white men inspired Norman Rockwell to create the painting "The Problem We All Must Live With," which graced the cover of Look magazine in 1964. When Ruby and the federal marshals arrived at the school, large crowds of people were gathered in front yelling and throwing objects. There were barricades set up, and policemen were everywhere. Ruby, in her innocence, first believed it was like a Mardi Gras celebration. When she entered the school under the protection of the federal marshals, she was immediately escorted to the principal's office and spent the entire day there. The chaos outside, and the fact that nearly all the white parents at the school had kept their children home, meant classes weren't going to be held. On her second day, the circumstances were much the same as the first, and for a while it looked like Ruby Bridges wouldn't be able to attend class. Only one teacher, Barbara Henry, agreed to teach Ruby. She was from Boston and a new teacher to the school. "Mrs. Henry," as Ruby would call her even as an adult, greeted her with open arms. Ruby was the only student in Henry's class, because parents pulled or threatened to pull their children from Ruby's class and send them to other schools. For a full year, Henry and Ruby sat side by side at two desks, working on Ruby's lessons. Henry was very loving and supportive of Ruby, helping her not only with her studies but also with the difficult experience of being ostracized.
Ruby Bridges' first few weeks at Frantz School were not easy ones. Several times she was confronted with blatant racism in full view of her federal escorts. On her second day of school, a woman threatened to poison her. After this, the federal marshals allowed her to only eat food from home. On another day, she was "greeted" by a woman displaying a black doll in a wooden coffin. Ruby's mother kept encouraging her to be strong and pray while entering the school, which Ruby discovered reduced the vehemence of the insults yelled at her and gave her courage. She spent her entire day, every day, in Mrs. Henry's classroom, not allowed to go to the cafeteria or out to recess to be with other students in the school. When she had to go to the restroom, the federal marshals walked her down the hall. Several years later, federal marshal Charles Burks, one of her escorts, commented with some pride that Ruby showed a lot of courage. She never cried or whimpered, Burks said, "She just marched along like a little soldier."
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month
Adam Kirsch in Tablet:
The problem with depression—the thing that makes it so hard to describe, and gives its sufferers a bad conscience—is its resemblance to unhappiness. Unhappiness is part of every life, and most people learn how to cope with it: by changing the conditions that cause it, or by distracting themselves, or by actively repressing it. A person who can’t deal with being unhappy is seen as a moral failure—childish, selfish, “difficult.” It is all too easy to apply the same judgment to a depressed person, as if depression just meant luxuriating in unhappiness. David Foster Wallace wrote a brilliant story, “The Depressed Person,” in which a woman worries that by describing her suffering she will only disgust her friends and even her therapist—a worry which itself feeds into her suffering. But depression is actually the opposite of unhappiness, because it is precisely not “a part of life.” When you are unhappy, life is pressing you, hurting you, and you are forced to respond to it. An unhappy life is a problem, and to be absorbed in a problem is to be absorbed in existence. When you are depressed, on the other hand, there is no problem, because there is nothing to be solved. Existence itself seems to retreat, to leave you stranded, without purchase on things, people, yourself. In her new memoir, This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression, Daphne Merkin describes it this way:
Now you can no longer figure out what it is that moves other people to bustle about out there in the world, doing errands, rushing to appointments, picking up a child from school. You have lost the thread that pulled the circumstances of your life together. Nothing adds up and all you can think about is the raw nerve of pain that your mind has become—and, once again, how merciful it would be to yourself and others to extinguish this pain.
This is the situation that Heidegger called anxiety, and that Sylvia Plath describes as being covered with a bell jar.
The Spirit The Triumph
do you remember learning to tie your shoes?
astonishing! the loops you had to make the delicate
adjustments the pulling-through tightening impossible!
the things we learn!
putting a bridle on a horse when he's headshy
getting your hands under a girl's sweater
no wonder we are the crown of all that exists
we can do anything how we climb chimneys
how we put one foot on the gas one on the clutch
and make the car go nothing too difficult nothing!
crutches artificial arms have you seen that?
how they pick their cups up and use razors? amazing!
and the wives shine it for them at night
they're sleeping the wives take it out of the room
and polish it with its own special rag
it's late they hold it against their bellies
the leather laces dangle into their laps
the mechanisms slip noiselessly
lowering the hook softly onto their breasts
we men! aren't we something? I mean
we are worth thinking about aren't we?
we are the end we are the living end
by C.K. Williams
from Selected Poems
Noonday Press, 1994
Friday, February 17, 2017
Adam Shatz in the LRB Blog:
Liberal supporters of a two-state solution have deplored Trump’s press conference as another example of his uncouthness, his disregard for an international consensus based on decades of international diplomacy, and, not least, his rejection of agreed ‘parameters’ for a resolution. Their mourning over the death of the ‘peace process’ ignores the fact that it has been dead for some time. A moribund process for more than twenty years, it has mainly benefited American ‘peace processors’, Israeli settlers and a narrow section of the Palestinian bourgeoisie and nomenklatura. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley, has glossed Trump’s comments: ‘We absolutely support the two-state solution, but we are thinking out of the box as well.’
Most Palestinians in the Occupied Territories believe that their situation has deteriorated since Oslo; some fondly remember the period before the first intifada, when they could work and travel inside Israel, or what they call the ‘48 territories’: i.e. the territory they lived in before the creation of Israel. To be able to live, work and move freely in their land has always been a stronger desire among Palestinians than statehood, especially if a minuscule, sovereign Palestine means being walled off from 78 per cent of the territory to which they still feel intimately connected.
As Yezid Sayigh argued in Armed Struggle and the Search for State (1997), the Palestinian national movement was initially driven by a vision of return and restoration, rather than the replacement of Israel’s occupation with a Palestinian state. The notion of statehood emerged gradually, out of a series of strategic defeats. With it came the bureaucratisation of the PLO and its transformation (or calcification) into a state-apparatus without a state.
If Israel were officially to abandon its commitment to the ‘peace process’ in favour of the bigger deal – continued control, even annexation, of the West Bank, as Israeli voices to the right of Netanyahu propose – Palestinians may well decide to struggle for their own ‘bigger deal’. That is what frightens defenders of the fading two-state consensus.
Lanre Bakare in The Guardian:
In the opening to his 1962 New Yorker essay Letter from a Region in My Mind, James Baldwin remembers walking around his neighbourhood of Harlem as a 14-year-old, wondering if his fate would trap him there. “What I saw around me that summer in Harlem was what I had always seen,” he wrote. “Nothing had changed.” More than 50 years on, Baldwin’s words and philosophy have travelled thousands of miles from 110th street. His public image has been on a journey, from literary sensation with his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1952 to his searing non-fiction work in the 60s that saw him revered as one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals. Thirty years since he died of stomach cancer in 1987, an expat in the south of France, there is reinvigorated interest in Baldwin and his ideas. February sees the release of I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary by Haitian director Raoul Peck that takes Baldwin’s final, unfinished project – a book about the lives and murders of his friends Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers – as a starting point, before analysing Baldwin’s sometimes strained and difficult relationship with the civil rights movement. In March, Taschen will publish a special edition of The Fire Next Time with images from Life magazine photographer Steve Schapiro.
Peck’s film is the latest in a string of events and retrospectives that have put Baldwin back in the public imagination. The ball began rolling in 2014 with Columbia University’s year-long programme pegged to his 90th birthday. Since then, there have been film festivals, exhibitions dedicated to Baldwin, and musical theatre inspired by his writing. As the Black Lives Matter protests unfolded around the US, there was a collection of writing – including an entry from the Pulitzer winner Isabel Wilkerson – which took inspiration from Baldwin. His work has been used to explain everything from Trump to Dylann Roof and the Charleston church shooting. Then, in 2015, came Ta-Nehisi Coates’s bestseller turned must-read commentary on contemporary race relations in America, Between The World And Me, which was inspired by Baldwin’s own essay collection, The Fire Next Time.
The Nature of Reality: A Dialogue Between a Buddhist Scholar (Alan Wallace) and a Theoretical Physicist (Sean Carroll)
Video length: 1:22:07
Nancy McLean in National Humanities Center:
Looking back, it’s clear now that the real work of winning equal treatment began after the legislative victories once thought to signal the movement’s denouement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not simply open public accommodations, such as lunch counters and bus stations. It made possible the first large-scale progress in breaking down job segregation, a primary goal of civil rights activists from at least the 1940s onward. Using the Act’s Title VII, which outlawed employment discrimination, hundreds of thousands of workers ended their exclusion from higher-paying jobs and stopped discrimination in benefits, promotions, and day-to-day treatment. While some fought discrimination using the Civil Rights Act, other black workers organized to improve conditions in their existing jobs, as the Memphis sanitation strike inspired a vast wave of union organizing. Led by black municipal and hospital workers, the public sector became the best organized part of the U.S. labor market over the next two decades. There, African American men and women, especially, achieved their greatest income and promotion gains. In the area of school segregation, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and subsequent court victories enabled other activists to make the first significant headway in breaking down since the Supreme Court had issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision over a decade before. Still others, using the Voting Rights Act of 1965, opened electoral politics to African American voters and candidates as never before. In the South, the impact was stunning, as newly enfranchised black voters partnered with liberal and moderate whites to elect more African Americans than the region had seen since Reconstruction. In the cities of the North and West, black communities gained representation as never before. Nationally, forty-three black candidates won election as mayor in 1973, a number that quintupled over the next fifteen years.
As African Americans gained new access to white-dominated institutions, the freedom struggle moved inside from the streets. On college campuses, black students fought for and won the creation of Afro-American Studies programs and financial aid policies that would allow children of lower-income families to get college educations. In the military, one of the largest employers of African Americans, affirmative action and other policies produced one of the most racially equitable workplaces in the nation—indeed, the only one in which whites routinely have black supervisors. In just about every occupation, from auto work to librarianship, black caucuses arose to create a “safe space” where members would no longer be lonely “tokens”; they could raise consciousness about white privilege and organize for fair treatment and other institutional changes. The Congressional Black Caucus was only the best-publicized and most influential of these. Created in 1969 by Shirley Chisholm (D-NY, 1924-2005) and others, it joined together a new critical mass of African American representatives as it enabled them to speak with a common voice on issues of concern to their constituents.
More here. (Note: At least one post throughout February will be in honor of Black History Month)
Hoover’s philosophy is continuous with a long American tradition, born in England, of engaging with nature, both for the wonder of the thing itself and for the more practical empiricist aim, typified already in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon, of discovering better ways to dominate it and to put it to use for us. The idea that philosophy might be practical in this way has been almost completely erased from our consciousness today, above all in the professionalized bubble of academic philosophy. Yet, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the period from which Hoover drew the most, common usage of the term makes perfectly clear that what a “philosopher” does primarily is to inquire—as Socrates was, wrongly, accused of doing—into what goes on in the heavens above and the earth below (and everywhere between as well). In a characteristic usage of the term, John Evelyn, in his 1661 workFumifugium; Or, The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated, speaks of “these unwholsome vapours, that distempered the Aer, to the very raising of Storms and tempests; upon which a Philosopher might amply discourse.”2 Or, as Agricola himself explains, “there are many arts and sciences of which a miner should not be ignorant. First there is Philosophy, that he may discern the origin, cause, and nature of subterranean things.”3
Thomas Jefferson would amply discourse on the floral and faunal diversity of the New World, not least with his contemporary, the French natural historian Buffon, and also participate in ethnolinguistic surveys of the Native American groups of the Northeast. This sort of practical undertaking was one of the principal tasks of philosophy as commonly understood into the eighteenth century, and particularly so in the United States, where it was the only conception of philosophy that seemed appropriate for the nascent nation.
“I speak the way I speak inside,” wrote the great Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik. “Not with the voice intent on sounding human, but with the other one, the one that insists I’m still a creature of the forest.” Pizarnik, whose ubiquity in 20th-century Latin-American literature is indicated by the fact that many critics refer to her simply as “Alejandra” or “A.P.,” has not, historically, been on a first-name basis with English-reading audiences; that may change following the publication ofExtracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972, an invaluable 2016 release from New Directions that compiles new translations of three full-length collections and numerous uncollected poems Pizarnik left behind. This volume charts the final decade of the poet’s life, a period of her career in which she turned her gaze away from the world, facing inward to focus on the dark voices she channeled. On the page she carves out spaces of solitude and silence in which language is reduced to its very essence, a limited collection of recurring images and symbols. “When the roof tiles blow away from the house of language, and words no longer keep—that is when I speak,” Pizarnik resolved. Drawing from the dream-languages and word games of the surrealists, Pizarnik turns notions of lyrical subjectivity inside out with her kaleidoscopic procession of masks and personae; the strange music of her poems invites the reader in, and her revelations — cathartic and unsettling — are very nearly overwhelming.
A striking element in the book, which is referenced all through it, is the extent to which the quality and the availability in the shops of what we call salami was a gauge of quality of life for people in the Soviet generation. As Alexievich puts it, giving voice to a common view in most of this generation (this is not her own view), “the man who chooses from a hundred different varieties of salami in the shop is freer than the man who chooses from ten varieties”. (She adds, provocatively and controversially, freedom also means “to be unwhipped, but we can never expect an unwhipped generation; the Russian doesn’t understand freedom, he needs the Cossack and the lash”.) There can be little doubt that the salami question points to a significant reason for the failure of the great experiment in transforming human nature. A striking example of its centrality is provided in the report of Yeltsin’s visit to the US in 1989. He toured a medium-sized grocery shop in Texas. Leon Aron in his Yeltsin biography quotes one of the entourage: “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.” The accompanying official went on: “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: ‘the pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments’.”
This very question of the place of salami in an ideal society will, like a revenant, persist in those who come after the collapse of the Soviet system, as an index of where each situates himself or herself in relation to that vanished past. Most have become totally cynical. One businessman diagnoses “a mental revolution of one hundred and eighty degrees”. There is now no talk of the Gulag or anything like it.
Sally J. Goerner in Evonomics:
According to a recent study by Oxfam International, in 2010 the top 388 richest people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population– a whopping 3.6 billion people. By 2014, this number was down to 85 people. Oxfam claims that, if this trend continues, by the end of 2016 the top 1% will own more wealth than everyone else in the world combined. At the same time, according to Oxfam, the extremely wealthy are also extremely efficient in dodging taxes, now hiding an estimated $7.6 trillion in offshore tax-havens.
Why should we care about such gross economic inequality? After all, isn’t it natural? The science of flow says: yes, some degree of inequality is natural, but extreme inequality violates two core principles of systemic health: circulation and balance.
Circulation represents the lifeblood of all flow-systems, be they economies, ecosystems, or living organisms. In living organisms, poor circulation of blood causes necrosis that can kill. In the biosphere, poor circulation of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. strangles life and would cause every living system, from bacteria to the biosphere, to collapse. Similarly, poor circulation of money, goods, resources, and services leads to economic necrosis – the dying off of large swaths of economic tissue that ultimately undermines the health of the economy as a whole.
In flow systems, balance is not simply a nice way to be, but a set of complementary factors – such as big and little; efficiency and resilience; flexibility and constraint – whose optimal balance is critical to maintaining circulation across scales. For example, the familiar branching structure seen in lungs, trees, circulatory systems, river deltas, and banking systems (Fig. 1) connects a geometrically constant ratio of a few large, a few more medium-sized, and a great many small entities. This arrangement, which mathematicians call a fractal, is extremely common because it’s particular balance of small, medium, and large helps optimize circulation across different levels of the whole. Just as too many large animals and too few small ones creates an unstable ecosystem, so financial systems with too many big banks and too few small ones tend towards poor circulation, poor health, and high instability.
Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber:
Civil society is a notoriously loose term – Marx, Gramsci, Bobbio and a whole host of political theorists and writers in the 1990s mean very different things by it. So how can we make it useful? One good place to start is the work of Ernest Gellner.
Gellner’s book on civil society, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and its Rivals, was published in 1994. My hardback copy was remaindered from the library of the American Enterprise Institute, which suggests a micro-history of the American conservative movement in itself. Gellner’s account of civil society makes it clear that what’s important about civil society is that it’s not the ‘civic society’ that Bannon is talking about, and in many respects is its antithesis.
Much of what Gellner has to say isn’t immediately relevant today. He’s writing in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites of which Gellner, an idiosyncratic social democrat, was not a fan. He also has a lot to say about the role of the umma in the Islamic world, stressing the ways in which Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ is a product of a set of very modern conditions. Yet what he has to say about civil society is highly relevant to Europe and the US. He writes with some skepticism about the efforts to build civil society in Eastern European countries where the state had atomized its citizens, and in which the local substitute for bourgeois modernizers were a clatter of spivs and former apparatchiks. This skepticism seems to have been born out in many cases, at least as things stand at the moment. The politics of the governing parties in Poland and Hungary, for example, are in part a deliberate retreat away from civil society into more traditional forms of identity such as religion and nationalism. It’s no coincidence, comrades, that the great hate figure of the populist right on both sides of the Atlantic is George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation is dedicated exactly to building up the kind of civil society that Gellner and his old sparring partner Karl Popper wanted to see.
And for Gellner, the cultural conditions of civil society are essential. Civil society involves a relationship of power, in which the forces within society and the economy are sufficiently strong to constrain the state. Yet it also involves a set of associated beliefs, or, more precisely, a pluralism of beliefs and identities, in which no identity is so overwhelmingly strong as to become a prescribed faith or universal moral order.'