When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
—Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom From the Known
You know, actually we have no love — that is a terrible thing to realize. Actually we have no love; we have sentiment; we have emotionality, sensuality, sexuality; we have remembrances of something which we have thought as love. But actually, brutally, we have no love. Because to have love means no violence, no fear, no competition, no ambition. If you had love you will never say, “This is my family.” You may have a family and give them the best you can; but it will not be “your family” which is opposed to the world. If you love, if there is love, there is peace. If you loved, you would educate your child not to be a nationalist, not to have only a technical job and look after his own petty little affairs; you would have no nationality. There would be no divisions of religion, if you loved. But as these things actually exist — not theoretically, but brutally — in this ugly world, it shows that you have no love. Even the love of a mother for her child is not love. If the mother really loved her child, do you think the world would be like this? She would see that he had the right food, the right education, that he was sensitive, that he appreciated beauty, that he was not ambitious, greedy, envious. So the mother, however much she may think she loves her child, does not love the child. So we have not that love.
—Jiddu Krishnamurti, Varanasi 5th Public Talk (28 November 1964)
The Collected Works, Vol. XV
There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:—through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more?
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick. “CHAPTER 114. The Gilder.”
We need a logical, fact-based analysis of the “gun violence problem” in the United States. To begin:
Since we know that guns are not the problem, let’s focus on the real issue: addiction.
Sex addiction, we know, causes people to shoot up massage parlours.
Food addiction leads to mass murder at grocery stores.
Addiction to prayer produces killings in all sorts of houses of worship.
Shopping addiction leads to killings at malls.
Video addiction causes murders in movie theatres.
Sugar addiction would lead to mass murders in candy shops, except that it also causes obesity and lethargy.
Gun addiction would lead, presumably, to mass murders in gun shops, but we haven’t seen any of that, which confirms what we already knew: guns are not the problem!
Addiction is the problem, and of course, addiction to violence contributes to every one of these specific variations.
Obviously, we would not have these addiction problems if it weren’t for people.
Clearly, then, people are the problem. Once we find a way to get rid of all these people, such needless tragedies will cease.
“A member of the late Legislature and an important official of Vancouver Island, in a letter to a professional friend in San Francisco, under date of October 22d, says:
“Victoria I have resolved to leave, and to leave in all human probability for ever, unless some more hopeful signs appear in the commercial horizon. • • • There is a general exodus talked of, and I confess with some show of good reason. In my judgment there are, at the present time, upon Wharf street alone, three solvent men—the whole commercial fabric totters to the very foundation, and when the crash comes it will be such as Vancouver Inland has never witnessed before. The failures of the past seven days will amount to over a million dollars. The future looms with dark lowering clouds without a solitary ray of light, unless Vancouver is turned over to the Yankees, in which case a magnificent and glorious harvest lies before us.”
—Marin Journal, Volume 6, Number 34, 3 November 1866 https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=MJ18661103.2.8&srpos=1312&e=-------en--20--1301--txt-txIN-Bogy-------1
Bruce was the first African-American elected to the Senate to serve a full term (1874 – 1880). He tells his story in this 1886 newspaper interview:
Reminiscences. of the Kansas Life of Ex-Senator B. K. Bruce.
HIS ESCAPE FROM QUANTRELL.
A Number of Chatty Anecdotes Related by Him to an “Alta” Correspondent . . . .
Special Correspondence of the Alta California.
Washington, October 11, 1886.— Some half dozen old-time Kansans chanced to gather together a few evenings since at one of the leading Washington hotels, and the conversation naturally drifted into reminiscences of the “Kaw” State in the early days, and the array of men more or less renowned, dead and alive, who had cast their fortunes in that then remote quarter of Western civilization. Two of these gentlemen were living at Lawrence when the guerilla [sic] chief Quantrell [sic] plundered that town and murdered several hundred people. After giving a vivid description of the attack and massacre, and narrating how they narrowly escaped death, one of the gentlemen casually remarked that Ex-Senator and Ex-Register of the Treasury Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi was a citizen of Lawrence at that time, engaged In teaching a colored school. Meeting Mr. Bruce on Pennsylvania avenue shortly thereafter your correspondent ventured to ask him if this was correct, and if so how he came to be in Kansas at that period.
THE SACKING OF LAWRENCE.
“Yes,” replied the ex-Senator from Mississippi, “I was in Lawrence when Quantrell sacked the town and butchered so many people, and my life was saved by a miracle. Quantrell’s band certainly would not have spared any colored man. I was born in Virginia, and taken, while a slave, to Mississippi when a mere lad. From there I went to St. Louis, Missouri, and after the firing on Fort Sumpter and the opening of the War of the Rebellion, concluded I would emancipate myself. So I worked my way to Kansas and became a free man before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln.
“I had, fortunately, managed to pick up something of an education during the period of my slavery, and finally settled down at Lawrence as a school teacher. The night before the Quantrell raid, I had been watching and nursing a sick friend, and when the day broke I heard firing, which indicated that trouble was brewing. Looking out the window I saw armed men riding by, firing their pistols, and immediately realized that the enemy was upon us. To remain with my sick friend would have been to invite certain death, so I bade him adieu, and with no clothing on my person but shirt and drawers, watched my opportunity, got out of the house and hid in the bushes behind a fence.
A NARROW ESCAPE
“I saw the fighting going on, and the rebs rode by without discovering me, although they pursued every man in sight. At last I had a clear field, ran down to the Kaw river as fast as I could, and jumped in. My flight was observed, and several armed men rode furiously toward me. Fortunately, keeping my head under water, I managed to hide beneath a hedge of vines and roots near by the shore. The troopers rode to the river and searched everywhere without discovering my retreat, although they came within a few feet of me a dozen times. Finally they rode away, and I remained I concealed in the river all day and did not emerge from my harbor of safety until after nightfall, when the town had been sacked and burned, and the guerillas [sic] hastily evacuated with their loot.
“General Jim Lane was at Lawrence at the time, and he, too, miraculously escaped. He subsequently followed Quantrell’s men away down into Missouri, and when he returned, Lane said he had managed to kill quite as many of the guerillas as they Had killed of our people. I asked him how he knew that those he killed were Quantrell’s men, to which inquiry he grimly replied that he felt certain of it, because going down his troops killed every man they met with new clothes on, and coming back they killed all they saw with old clothes on, so that no mistake could have been made in this particular. I did not, as is generally supposed, live in Mississippi during the war. I returned there after the war ended, and entered the arena of politics. I was elected and served two terms as Sheriff of my county before I was chosen a Senator in Congress.
A SENATOR’S MAIDEN SPEECH.
“By-the-bye,” continued Mr. Bruce, “at my first canvass for sheriff, my Democratic opponent, who was a man of considerable force as a public speaker, challenged me to meet him in debate. I was reluctant to do so, especially in view of the fact that, as the county was largely Republican, my election was assured, and, therefore, nothing was to be gained thereby. But, being pressed to accept the offer, we agreed to divide time at a meeting in a precinct where the Democrats were largely in the majority. After eloquently narrating his services to the Democratic party, his participation in the war of the Rebellion, and the sacrifices he had made for and shared with the people, my competitor said he had nothing against me — that I was a decent man, for my color, but that he knew me when I was a boy, that I had been a slave and performed menial offices, and therefore was unfitted to fill the high office of Sheriff.
“I hardly knew how to meet this logic and divert its force, considering existing prejudices. The only method seemingly open to me was to try to turn the laugh on my adversary, and fortunately I succeeded. When my turn came to speak I frankly admitted that I had been a slave, but it was a misfortune for which I was not responsible! True, as a slave I had been compelled to perform menial offices, but I had served my master honestly and faithfully. Now, however, I had managed to rise to a better position. I had outgrown the degradation and ignorance of slavery, and was now a free man and a good citizen; but the difference between my adversary and myself was clear and well-defined. Had he been a slave and performed menial offices, probably he never could have risen superior to his original condition, and would be performing menial offices even now. This sally was so well received by my opponents that my competitor never invited me thereafter to debate jointly and divide time with him.
“A SINGULAR INCIDENT, worth relating, occurred when I was a member of the Senate. I had never exchanged a word with Mr. Bogy, then a Senator from Missouri. We knew each other merely by sight. One day, to my surprise, Senator Bogy came to my desk and explained that he was much interested in the passage of a certain bill. There was nothing in it of a political nature, and he invoked my active assistance to help him pass the measure. He did not then realize that we had ever met before, but I well remembered the circumstance. I listened to his statement, and then replied about as follows :
‘It will afford me pleasure, Senator, to oblige you in any way, but really, you used me so shamefully in the last business transaction we had together, I am suspicious of you.’
‘Why, sir, what do you mean?’ excitedly replied the Missouri Senator, ‘we have never met before that I can recollect, and certainly have never had any business transactions together of any character.’
‘Let me see, I replied, ‘whether I cannot recall a certain transaction to your memory. Some twenty years ago a gentleman was hurrying through the streets of St. Louis one day, endeavoring to catch and board a river steamer. He was embarrassed with a heavy valise, and noticing a colored boy near by, asked if he did not want to earn a quarter. The boy replied affirmatively, and the valise was handed him to carry. The gentleman and the colored boy ran to the river together, and the gentleman jumped on board the boat just as the gang-plank was being drawn in. He halloed to the boy to throw the valise on board, but the boy halloed back to first give him the promised quarter. This the gentleman refused to do, and the result was the boat, which had drifted far out into the stream, was put again to shore. The gentleman, thereupon, somewhat unwillingly, handed out the quarter, and the boy gave up the valise, not, however, without escaping a round denunciation and fist-shaking from the angry gentleman, in which the words ‘black rascal’ were freely uttered in terms more forcible than polite.’
‘Yes,’ replied Senator Bogy, ‘I remember the incident as well as if it had occurred yesterday. I was the gentleman, and we had quite a scene of it. But what has that do with any business transaction between us?’
‘Very much!’ I replied laughingly, ‘since you were the gentleman and I was the colored boy whom you endeavored, while in haste to catch the boat, to beat out of a quarter of a dollar he had fairly, earned.’ Senator Bogy laughed heartily at the reminiscence, and we shook hands. I helped him pass his bill just to demonstrate that strange things frequently happen in this world, and that I bore him no malice. Who could have foreseen that the irate gentleman and the colored slave boy would have met years afterward as peers and colleagues in the Senate of the United States!”
A COLORED LECTURER.
Mr. Bruce is now engaged exclusively in the lecture field, which he finds more profitable and certainly quite as congenial as holding public office. He states he is out of politics until 1888, when he will probably take the stump for the Republican Presidential nominee. Mr. Bruce is in his forty-sixth year, is reasonably portly and has quite a taking presence. His color is light, and it is the tradition that he is the offspring of one of the most distinguished of Virginia’s sons. He is studiously polite, well-poised, and of unobtrusive habit. As a consequence, he merits and receives universal esteem. He owns a large and well-cultivated plantation in Mississippi, and his wealth is estimated at nearly one hundred thousand dollars. Several ladies of the best Mississippi families, who were impoverished by the war, now hold clerical positions in the several departments through Mr. Bruce’s intercession while a Senator.
—Daily Alta California, Volume 41, Number 13563, 18 October 1886
In 1966 I was fourteen years old, living in Southern California, and just beginning to understand the world around me. Occasionally we would cross the border for a day-trip to Tijuana, where I saw poverty that I had never seen before. Everything in Mexico was cheaper—much cheaper—but at what a price! Street kids in rags and bare feet; dusty, unpaved streets filled with an obstacle-course’s worth of potholes; wizened old men selling donkey rides or piñatas; wizened old women selling flowers or tortillas; an indescribable cocktail of odours both delicious and disgusting. And that was in the “nice” parts of Tijuana, where my mother took us.
Even then, there were more or less constant stories of Mexicans trying to cross the border. They were called “wetbacks” because some of them crossed by swimming a river, but I suspect a lot more of them were driven across in vans and trucks. At fourteen, I thought to myself, “If I were stuck in poverty like that, I would be a wetback, too.” It was clear to me then, and it is clear to me now: if the richest nation on earth shares a border with a country plagued by poverty, corruption, and violence, only one result is possible.
I had learned in school about the Marshall Plan. After World War II, the nations of Western Europe were in ruins. The U.S. feared that without significant aid their economies would struggle badly, depriving the U.S. of trading partners and inviting the growth of political movements friendly to the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan’s actual impact on Europe’s economic recovery is still being debated, but Europe did recover. To my 14-year-old mind, the connection with Mexico was obvious. “We need a Marshall Plan for Mexico!” I thought.
Instead, we built fences and turned the border into a Berlin Wall. In this case, however, people were not being shot at as they tried to escape. Instead, they were rounded up and sent back to Mexico. Some of them, anyway. Others crossed successfully and found that Americans were delighted to employ them at wages no American would accept, often doing work that few Americans would do. Like so many immigrants, they worked non-stop, sent money back home, saved all they could, and in many cases built better lives for themselves and their children.
Many Americans are outrageously hypocritical about “undocumented workers.” They love the cheap vegetables the undocumented harvest, they love the cheap chickens they process, but they don’t like them. Racism is a big factor, of course. Personally, I’m with Walt Whitman and Emma Lazarus: let them all come in! If there is work for them, if they can build a better life, they will come and they will stay. If not, they will either leave, or not come at all.
On the other hand, it would be cheaper and more humane, even at this late date, to bring back the Marshall Plan idea, on a much bigger scale (it’s not only Mexicans, now) so that millions of people don’t have to leave their homelands just to have a decent life. Imbalance never lasts in nature. If poverty is on one side of a permeable membrane called a “border,” and wealth is on the other side, osmosis will take place until a balance is reached.
To imagine that walls and fences and border cops will overturn the laws of nature is . . . madness.
We asked the Brooklyn poet, Walter Whitman, for his thoughts about the “crisis at the border,” and he sent us this:
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Though somewhat obscure, Mr. Whitman’s view of the situation seems to align with that of Emma Lazarus:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
America in 2020-21, it turns out, is a lot like America in 1876-77.
The disputed presidential election of 1876 finally resulted in a back-room deal that put the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, in the White House. In return, federal troops were removed from the states of the Confederacy, thus ending Reconstruction and marking the start of the Jim Crow era in which Southern whites reasserted political domination of their states through a campaign of terror, intimidation, and racist legislation.
In the following newspaper dispatch from January 1877, Senator John Sherman of Ohio, brother of the Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, debates with . . . my great-great-uncle, Senator Lewis Vital Bogy (1813 – 1877). Bogy—whose own election three years previously was widely reported to have resulted from bribery of the electors—was a Missouri Democrat whose grandfather, Joseph Baugis, was a French-Canadian who had left Quebec at the age of 14 and arrived in the Mississippi River Valley, where he engaged in the fur trade and eventually became the owner of eleven slaves on his property in Arkansas. Senator Bogy would die just months after this debate, in September 1877. His brother, Benjamin Ignace Bogy, was my great-great-grandfather. Most of the family (whose name is pronounced with a soft g or zh sound) subsequently became staunch bourgeois Republicans.
The capper to Sen. Bogy’s argument comes when he claims that Southerners “had been forced to resort to violence” and that “Southern whites had a right to rebel against State Governments forced on them by the Federal Government and sustained by Federal bayonets.” Oh, boy. I cannot say I am sorry to have missed those family gatherings with Uncle Lewis.
[It should be noted that Sen. Bogy’s older brother, Joseph Bogy III (1808 – 1881) ran for Congress (unsuccessfully) in 1863 as an “Unconditional Unionist” and did not share the Senator’s political views, at least. On the other hand, his younger brother and, alas, my great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Ignace Bogy (1829 – 1900) joined the Confederate calvary under General Marmaduke.]
Washington, January 9th.—SENATE.—By unanimous consent, the House bill absolutely abolishing the District of Columbia Police Commissioners, and to transfer their duties to the District Commissioners, passed.
The resolution ordering the arrest of the recusant witness Runyon passed without division.
Wallace’s resolution concerning the Electoral count was then considered. [Sen. John] Sherman [R-Ohio] spoke at length, and claimed that the evidence before the Louisiana Returning Board justified their action.
The Senate discussed the resolutions of Wallace, in regard to the count of the Electoral vote, during the whole afternoon, when they were laid aside, and the bill to perfect the revision of the Statutes of the United States was taken up, so as to come up as unfinished business to-morrow.
Sherman said the Louisiana Electors had already voted for Hayes and Wheeler. The vote was duly authenticated and delivered to the President of the Senate, and was entitled to credit. Hayes and Wheeler were legally entitled to that vote. He reiterated that Hayes had not sought the office, and would gain no honor by receiving it wrongfully, but if Constitutionally preferred, he was not to be tricked. He (Sherman) would accept any plan for an honest count of the vote. He read from the Louisiana law requiring the Returning Board to reject the votes in parishes where fraud and violence prevailed. He paid a tribute to the honesty of the Board and their respect for the law, rather than the Influence which was brought to bear on them. He reviewed the character of the evidence before the Board, which, he said, compelled them to act as they did about throwing out returns. This violence, he asserted, was to compel men to vote the Democratic ticket and elect Tilden. The intimidation extended to Mississippi, and these votes were to be counted for S. J. Tilden. The evidence before the ; Senate I Committee would show that Henry Pinkston owed his death to cheers uttered at a Republican meeting. If such intimidation extended to other States North and West, law would end. Tilden’s inauguration would be the greatest misfortune that could befall the country. He did not fear Tilden and his four years’ of power, but did fear such means of electing him. Tllden’s term of office would be dishonored from the beginning. The blood of hundreds of men would be on his garments. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia improper means had prevented Republicans from voting. In closing, he denied that the Government paid the expenses of the Republican Visiting Committee to New Orleans. Gov. Hayes did not know he was going, nor did Hayes make a suggestion concerning his course there. He was proud of the willingness of the country to acquiesce in the result.
[Sen. Lewis V.] Bogy [D-Missouri] said he had heard the most humiliating effort ever made upon the floor of the Senate. Sherman’s speech amazed him. It was incomprehensible. If Sherman spoke truly of the condition of things in Louisiana, then the country had retrograded to the darkest ages of barbarism. If Louisians were assassins, it, disgraced the country as well as that State. He denounced the testimony alluded to by Sherman as that of villains and perjurers. He would, in the future, explain how the crimes in Louisiana were brought about, on account of the recent emancipation of a race not yet in a condition to enjoy the privileges given them by the Constitution. Kellogg, Packard and other men were responsible for the condition of things in that State. Whites there were as peaceable and law-abiding as anywhere. Tilden should not be inaugurated, if elected as Sherman claimed; but he was honestly elected.
Boutwell and Bogy engaged in a discussion of some length, involving the question of outrages in Mississippi, Bogy claiming that the Mississippi Committee last year had greatly exaggerated the facts, and had the worst witnesses before them.
Boutwell denied this. He wondered that a people who had spent so much money and lost so many lives for the perpetuity of the Union would calmly see such outrages in the South.
Bogy retorted by alluding to the carpet-baggers sent South by Boutwell and his friends to administer Governments. He particularly denounced the Ames Administration as an outrage and disgrace to the country. The negroes in Mississippi were now treated with more respect than in Massachusetts. Southern whites had been forced to resort to violence, as the people of San Francisco had some years ago. It was the great American common law of self-defence.
Boutwell and Sherman said that was admitting that violence prevailed there. Sherman said the people of New York, when Tweed stole his millions, did not resort to violence.
Bogy said the Southern whites had a right to rebel against State Governments forced on them by the Federal Government and sustained by Federal bayonets. . . .
—Daily Alta California, Volume 29, Number 9774, 10 January 1877
Senator Bogy’s character is further illuminated by this 1881 piece recalling his interaction with a fellow Senator, Blanche Kelso Bruce.
Senator Bruce (1841 – 1898) was the first African-American elected to the Senate to serve a full term. He was defeated for re-election in 1880 by a white Democrat and former Confederate officer in the Civil War. Bruce was just one of many black politicians who lost their offices after Reconstruction ended in 1877. The son of a white plantation owner and one of his house-slaves, Bruce studied at Oberlin College for two years. When the Civil War began he deliberately went to Kansas, a “free state,” to gain his freedom (and almost lost his life in Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas in 1863—see the link to his 1886 newspaper interview, below). In 1864 he opened a school for black children in Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri. —Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Bruce.
A Story of Two Senators
The late Senator Bogy of Missouri was anxious to have a pension-bill passed one day for a constituent, and came over to the Republican side to ask support for it. He approached the colored Senator from Mississippi [Sen. Blanche Bruce, elected in 1874, the same year that Bogy was elected], and said:
“Now look here, Bruce, vote for this, won’t you? I only want another vote or two, and you can carry it through for me. It is a meritorious case.”
“Certainly,” said Senator Bruce. “You know, Senator, that I have always been willing to do you any favor you asked.”
“Sir,” replied the Missouri Senator, “I never asked you a favor in my life till this moment.”
“Oh, yes, you have,” replied Bruce. “You may remember once, many years ago, that you were going from St. Louis down the river on a steamboat, and you were hurrying along to catch the boat with a big valise. You passed a little barefooted mulato, and said: ‘Here, you little black rascal, take this valise and come on with me.’ The boy took the hand-bag, and when you came near the boat, you saw it was about to push off, and you ran on ahead and just crossed the gang-plank when it was drawn in. The boy, however, had not been able to keep up with you, and arrived too late. You stood on the lower deck and yelled: ‘Throw that valise aboard, you black rascal; I can’t go without my valise.’ But the boat moved out till the boy was afraid it would fall into the river if be tried to throw it, and, besides, he expected to receive a quarter for carrying it, and you had, apparently, forgotten all about that. The valise was not thrown and you made the captain of the boat come back to the dock again to get it, and the boy collected the quarter. Now do you remember that circumstance, Senator?” concluded Bruce.
“I do,” admitted Senator Bogy.
“Well,” said Bruce, “I was the little mulatto-boy that carried your valise, and I am just as ready to accommodate you to-day as I was then. I’ll vote for your bill.”
—The Weekly Calistogian, Volume IV, Number 16, 6 April 1881
Twelve years after that story was published, Frank G. Carpenter re-told it rather differently in the San Francisco Call:
Returning to Senator Bruce: He had a number of curious experiences during that first term in the Senate, and one of the queerest of these was when old Senator Bogy asked him to vote for a bill which he had before the Senate. Bogy was one of the most aristocratic of the Senators. He came from an old St. Louis family, and as he asked Bruce to do this, he sat down beside him. Bruce laughed as he made the request, and said, “Senator Bogy, I think we can arrange this transaction better than we did our last business matter.”
“What do you mean?” said Bogy. “I never did any business with you before.”
“Don’t you remember meeting me before coming to the Senate?” said Bruce.
“No, I do not,” replied Bogy.
“Well,” said Bruce, “I am not surprised at that, for it was more than twenty years ago. You were trying to catch a steamer at St. Louis and you had a heavy bag with you. The day was hot and the perspiration was rolling off you in streams. A colored boy ran up to you and grabbed the bag, and he carried it for you to the wharf. You got there just as the boat was about to start. You jumped on and called for the valise. The colored boy stuck to the valise and called for his quarter. You had to go through every one of your pockets before you could find a quarter and throw it ashore. Then the boat was too far out for the boy to throw the valise. The captain had to stop the boat and come back to the wharf for you to get your valise. Now, do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” replied Senator Bogy; “but I don’t see where you come in.”
“Oh,” replied Bruce, “I was the colored boy who got the quarter.”
—San Francisco Call, Volume 74, Number 151, 29 October 1893
In an 1886 newspaper interview, Bruce told the story himself, again in a slightly different way:
A SINGULAR INCIDENT, worth relating, occurred when I was a member of the Senate. I had never exchanged a word with Mr. Bogy, then a Senator from Missouri. We knew each other merely by sight. One day, to my surprise, Senator Bogy came to my desk and explained that he was much interested in the passage of a certain bill. There was nothing in it of a political nature, and he invoked my active assistance to help him pass the measure. He did not then realize that we had ever met before, but I well remembered the circumstance. I listened to his statement, and then replied about as follows :
“It will afford me pleasure, Senator, to oblige you in any way, but really, you used me so shamefully in the last business transaction we had together, I am suspicious of you.”
“Why, sir, what do you mean?” excitedly replied the Missouri Senator, “we have never met before that I can recollect, and certainly have never had any business transactions together of any character.”
“Let me see,” I replied, “whether I cannot recall a certain transaction to your memory. Some twenty years ago a gentleman was hurrying through the streets of St. Louis one day, endeavoring to catch and board a river steamer. He was embarrassed with a heavy valise, and noticing a colored boy near by, asked if he did not want to earn a quarter. The boy replied affirmatively, and the valise was handed him to carry. The gentleman and the colored boy ran to the river together, and the gentleman jumped on board the boat just as the gang-plank was being drawn in. He halloed to the boy to throw the valise on board, but the boy halloed back to first give him the promised quarter. This the gentleman refused to do, and the result was the boat, which had drifted far out into the stream, was put again to shore. The gentleman, thereupon, somewhat unwillingly, handed out the quarter, and the boy gave up the valise, not, however, without escaping a round denunciation and fist-shaking from the angry gentleman, in which the words ‘black rascal’ were freely uttered in terms more forcible than polite.”
“Yes,” replied Senator Bogy, “I remember the incident as well as if it had occurred yesterday. I was the gentleman, and we had quite a scene of it. But what has that do with any business transaction between us?”
“Very much!” I replied laughingly, “since you were the gentleman and I was the colored boy whom you endeavored, while in haste to catch the boat, to beat out of a quarter of a dollar he had fairly, earned.” Senator Bogy laughed heartily at the reminiscence, and we shook hands. I helped him pass his bill just to demonstrate that strange things frequently happen in this world, and that I bore him no malice. Who could have foreseen that the irate gentleman and the colored slave boy would have met years afterward as peers and colleagues in the Senate of the United States!
—Daily Alta California, Volume 41, Number 13563, 18 October 1886
For the full interview with Senator Bruce, see “Senator Blanche K. Bruce’s story, in his own words.”
Having characters like Senator Bogy in my family tree, and growing up where I did, made me wonder how I ever turned out so differently. For my answer, have a look at Dear Maury.
On Saturdays when I was a boy, I used to sit around all day reading while my mother did the housework. Now on Saturdays I sit around all day reading while no one does the housework.
Sent to me by my good friend, le sage du Mans, Christian Lebas:
de Théophile Gautier
Tandis qu’à leurs oeuvres perverses
Les hommes courent haletants,
Mars qui rit, malgré les averses,
Prépare en secret le printemps.
Pour les petites pâquerettes,
Sournoisement lorsque tout dort,
Il repasse des collerettes
Et cisèle des boutons d’or.
Dans le verger et dans la vigne,
Il s’en va, furtif perruquier,
Avec une houppe de cygne,
Poudrer à frimas l’amandier.
La nature au lit se repose ;
Lui descend au jardin désert,
Et lace les boutons de rose
Dans leur corset de velours vert.
Tout en composant des solfèges,
Qu’aux merles il siffle à mi-voix,
Il sème aux prés les perce-neiges
Et les violettes aux bois.
Sur le cresson de la fontaine
Où le cerf boit, l’oreille au guet,
De sa main cachée il égrène
Les grelots d’argent du muguet.
Sous l’herbe, pour que tu la cueilles,
Il met la fraise au teint vermeil,
Et te tresse un chapeau de feuilles
Pour te garantir du soleil.
Puis, lorsque sa besogne est faite,
Et que son règne va finir,
Au seuil d’avril tournant la tête,
Il dit : Printemps, tu peux venir !
I’ve been working for weeks on what will probably be an 800-word article. Well, I’ve just been writing and writing and writing… searching for the right small focused part of the big [picture]. . . .
I’ve gotten more patient with the writing process, and with that period when you want to have all the thoughts in a row but they’re running around like kids at a playground.
Time is a good editor.
—Farai Chideya, @farai on Twitter
Farai Chideya is a journalist, author, radio host, and podcaster. Among other achievements, she was a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute from 2012-2016.
Along the same lines, Natalia Cecire (Senior Lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Sussex, @ncecire on Twitter) recalls the advice she was given about learning math:
Some things are just so hard you have to see them ten times to get it. So if you don’t get it right now, that’s because this is only time one.
The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world.
—Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger,” in The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
[Tune: “It Don’t Mean a Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing”]
It don’t mean a thing, if your nose can be seen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!
It’s no good if it’s only on your mouth
It’s still not safe, if your nose is out!
So get with the scene, keep your nose behind the screen
Pull up pull up pull up pull up
pull up pull up pull up your mask!
It ain’t no good to cover just your mouth
So pull that mask up, cover up your snout!
We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.
—Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)
From “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”, presented by Bakunin as a Reasoned Proposal to the Central Committee of the League for Peace and Freedom, at the League’s first congress held in Geneva (September 1867). Source: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mikhail_Bakunin
On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump led a conspiracy to assassinate Congressional leaders and the Vice President.
The aim was to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, either directly or by creating a crisis that would serve as an excuse for Trump to declare an emergency and seize power.
Like everything else Trump has done his entire life, this was a criminal enterprise from the beginning, it was inept, and it failed.
Trump and his co-conspirators in the Congress, in the media, in his family, and in the corporate world must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Because if they aren’t, they will try again.
We hate uncertainty.
We want clear, definite answers.
We want simple stories that explain everything.
We become Fascists so easily.
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”
I was reminded today of one of my more brilliant ideas to improve the world by these two paragraphs about Britain’s exit from the European Union:
Every five years, the UK and EU will review the agreement, supplementary agreements and any matters related to it. That corresponds to the standard five-year political timetable in Brussels and Westminster. In other words, each new Westminster parliament, or Council president, or European parliament, is going to have their own Brexit, their own appraisal of the relationship.
This is a pulsating, living deal. The metaphor of a divorce no longer really holds. It’s like a couple splitting up but then buying a new much smaller home where they’ll meet up at weekends. Maybe they’ll be sickened by each other whenever they arrive. Maybe they’ll start to remember what they saw in each other in the first place. Divergence or integration.
—Ian Dunt, “Never-ending story: Deal unveils next Brexit arguments”
This “five-year divorce,” with both parties obliged to reconsider the terms of their separation twice a decade, parallels my own idea, the “five-year marriage.”
The five-year marriage is a simple plan. Every marriage would have a five-year term that must be re-negotiated by the two parties, and then either renewed for another five years or ended, in which case they shake hands and go their separate ways.
It’s an idea bound to be ignored, of course, because when two people are on the verge of marriage they are definitely not inclined to be considering seriously the terms on which their marriage might end. Only the super-rich have lawyers and pre-nuptial agreements. Moreover, the five-year marriage would have to be adopted by an entire society, or at least by a large group of people, to make it work. Nevertheless, let us consider the possible advantages.
First, marriage “until death do us part” immediately encourages bad behaviour. Why not leave your dirty socks on the floor, or leave the cap off the toothpaste tube? You have a lifetime deal that can be broken only by extreme measures: a messy, complicated, and expensive divorce. In a five-year marriage, you would think at least twice before leaving those dirty socks to annoy or even anger your partner: do you want to risk a good marriage over dirty socks?
Similarly, if a marriage “until death do us part” is going badly, one or both parties may be tempted to cheat on their partner, leading to all the drearily familiar and ugly consequences of infidelity. On the other hand, imagine being three-and-a-half years into a five-year marriage that is not working out. In that case, why risk all the lies and hurt and anger of infidelity, when you can just wait eighteen months for your freedom?
Second, the five-year marriage plan recognizes a simple truth: we change. Naturally, the chances of two people changing over several decades and yet remaining ideal partners for each other are . . . remote. Most marriages that last, let’s face it, last for other reasons: the kids, the cost of divorce, the fear of change, simple laziness, etc. The five-year marriage, at least, takes the fear and shame and surprise out of separation. (And, if you decide to stay together, you get a new wedding every five years! Florists, caterers, wedding reception musicians, are you listening?)
I offer the world this brilliant idea satirically because I know that almost no one will take it seriously. And yet, I am serious. I am convinced that the five-year marriage would do wonders to improve the quality of our relationships and our lives, not to mention our emotional well-being. When I ascend to a position of sufficient authority, the five-year marriage will be one of my first decrees.
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Conclusion”
Hammers think everything they see is a nail.
Capitalism thinks everything it sees is a commodity.
“Bribery, the corruption of government agents, the debauch of red Americans, murder, theft, piracy, hijacking, the liquor traffic, private war, the employment of public force in private war, and other criminal practices characterized the Western fur trade. (As they had characterized the French, Canadian, and British fur trade.) They were deplorable. But they must be seen in relation to such facts as the West itself. . . .
“Before legal responsibility could be possible in the West, it was necessary to settle the West.
“The West being settled . . . a rudimentary legal justice, and a rudimentary social justice could not be established till the settlers of the West so changed the sentiments they brought along as to desire them.
“The development of the American social pattern had given the East a powerful money interest in preventing rudimentary legal and social decency from being established in the West. . . .
“The West . . . has always been exploited by absentee owners and managers under the sanction of imported law. . . . The Indians . . . were the first victims of a developing system whose later and successive victims have been white. As such they must be seen in relation to . . . a system of financial control which converted property, manipulated credit, and stripped the resources . . . to the sole end of canalizing eastward whatever wealth the West might produce.”
This report to the government of The Netherlands, published in September 2020, reaches conclusions that contradict common anti-nuclear talking points heard in the media.
Nuclear is a safe, secure and emission free energy with a low carbon footprint, which is able to supply a continuous and secure flow of electricity for generations to come. The main hurdle nowadays remains the economics of new nuclear power. . . .
Nuclear should not be viewed as being in competition with “renewable” sources of energy, such as wind or solar. Nevertheless, as the reduction of carbon emissions becoming a top political and public opinion priority, both nuclear and renewable sources could have much larger roles to play. The problem is that no “renewable” source has been demonstrated to have the capacity to provide the “baseload” electricity at all times of power needed to replace large fossil fuel plants. . . .
Nuclear is a high investment/low fuel costs generation technology. . . .
Another advantage is that the land‐use for nuclear power plants is negligible. Nuclear is by far the most concentrated way of generating electricity. . . .
On the question, asked by the Ministry of Economy of The Netherlands, as to whether nuclear could play an important role in the future energy mix of the Netherlands, the answer is affirmative. Nuclear energy, both large units and SMRs, when compared to VRE [Variable Renewable Energy, i.e., wind and solar] by using the same metrics, are cheaper, able to deliver dispatchable electricity to the grid (and stabilise the grid when needed) in a reliable fashion independent of weather conditions, while having the orders of magnitude smaller land‐ footprint than any other source of electricity, in particular, VREs. . . .
Read the full 88-page report. Thanks to John Quakes (Twitter: @quakes99) for pointing me to this important study.
From the Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (1885), Chapter IX:
[After the First Battle of Bull Run, which ended in a headlong retreat by the undisciplined Union army of volunteers, Sherman tries to restore order among the soldiers of his brigade.]
The Sixty-ninth still occupied Fort Corcoran, and one morning, after reveille, when I had just received the report, had dismissed the regiment, and was leaving, I found myself in a crowd of men crossing the drawbridge on their way to a barn close by, where they had their sinks; among them was an officer, who said: “Colonel, I am going to New York today. What can I do for you?” I answered: “How can you go to New York? I do not remember to have signed a leave for you.” He said, “No; he did not want a leave. He had engaged to serve three months, and had already served more than that time. If the Government did not intend to pay him, he could afford to lose the money; that he was a lawyer, and had neglected his business long enough, and was then going home.” I noticed that a good many of the soldiers had paused about us to listen, and knew that, if this officer could defy me, they also would. So I turned on him sharp, and said: “Captain, this question of your term of service has been submitted to the rightful authority, and the decision has been published in orders. You are a soldier, and must submit to orders till you are properly discharged. If you attempt to leave without orders, it will be mutiny, and I will shoot you like a dog! Go back into the fort now, instantly, and don’t dare to leave without my consent.” I had on an overcoat, and may have had my hand about the breast, for he looked at me hard, paused a moment, and then turned back into the fort. The men scattered, and I returned to the house where I was quartered, close by.
That same day, which must have been about July 26th, I was near the river-bank, looking at a block-house which had been built for the defense of the aqueduct, when I saw a carriage coming by the road that crossed the Potomac River at Georgetown by a ferry. I thought I recognized in the carriage the person of President Lincoln. I hurried across a bend, so as to stand by the road-side as the carriage passed. I was in uniform, with a sword on, and was recognized by Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Seward, who rode side by side in an open hack. I inquired if they were going to my camps, and Mr. Lincoln said: “Yes; we heard that you had got over the big scare, and we thought we would come over and see the ‘boys.'” The roads had been much changed and were rough. I asked if I might give directions to his coachman, he promptly invited me to jump in and to tell the coachman which way to drive. Intending to begin on the right and follow round to the left, I turned the driver into a side-road which led up a very steep hill, and, seeing a soldier, called to him and sent him up hurriedly to announce to the colonel (Bennett, I think) that the President was coming . . . .
Lincoln visits the various groups under Sherman’s command, one by one, and gives a brief, well-received speech to each group.
At last we reached Fort Corcoran. The carriage could not enter, so I ordered the regiment, without arms, to come outside, and gather about Mr. Lincoln, who would speak to them. He made to them the same feeling address, with more personal allusions, because of their special gallantry in the battle under Corcoran, who was still a prisoner in the hands of the enemy; and he concluded with the same general offer of redress in case of grievances. In the crowd I saw the officer with whom I had had the passage at reveille that morning. His face was pale, and lips compressed. I foresaw a scene, but sat on the front seat of the carriage as quiet as a lamb. This officer forced his way through the crowd to the carriage, and said: “Mr. President, I have a cause of grievance. This morning I went to speak to Colonel Sherman, and he threatened to shoot me.” Mr. Lincoln, who was still standing, said, “Threatened to shoot you?” “Yes, sir, he threatened to shoot me.” Mr. Lincoln looked at him, then at me, and stooping his tall, spare form toward the officer, said to him in a loud stage-whisper, easily heard for some yards around: “Well, if I were you, and he threatened to shoot, I would not trust him, for I believe he would do it.” The officer turned about and disappeared, and the men laughed at him. Soon the carriage drove on, and, as we descended the hill, I explained the facts to the President, who answered, “Of course I didn’t know any thing about it, but I thought you knew your own business best.” I thanked him for his confidence, and assured him that what he had done would go far to enable me to maintain good discipline, and it did.
B.P. (Before the Pandemic), almost all the bus drivers were friendly and chatty.
“Good morning!” I would say as I swiped my pass.
“How you doing?” the driver would ask, smiling.
No more. They don’t even acknowledge the greeting.
I think I know how they feel: like me, only worse.
I ride the city bus to and from work each day, and the low-level anxiety never disappears. Why is that guy letting his mask droop down below his nose? Why are those teenagers not even wearing masks? Will this be the day some idiot gives me COVID-19, despite all my precautions?
Imagine spending your whole workday on that bus, worrying about the risk you’re taking. Not an easy time to be a bus driver.
I get off the bus, stop at the friendly coffee shop to fill my travel mug, then walk to school where I spend my day teaching, trying to feel normal.
But I don’t.
I’m lucky to live in a country with a better COVID record than most, and in a province doing better than the national average, and in a part of the province doing better than the rest. My school follows all the protocols. My students wear their masks more often than not, and quickly put them on when reminded, if they forget. But they are teenagers, and they do forget sometimes, and who knows what happens outside of school hours? So I feel that same low-level anxiety, all day, every day.
The best protection against the virus, they say, is ventilation. I’m in my late sixties, and I have asthma, and I work with teenagers all day. I need whatever protection I can get, so I keep the door and windows open in my classroom. Lately the temperature has been dropping. It’s uncomfortably cold. When I come back to my room after someone else has taught in it, the door and windows are closed. I open them again. The choice: cold and anxious, or warm and really worried.
I live alone, in a small apartment. No pets. I haven’t visited with friends or been out to a restaurant or gone out to hear live music for . . . well, eight or nine months, but it feels much longer than that. The isolation, and the constant low-level anxiety, weighs on you. It probably helps to have a pet. It might help to have a spouse or a partner or kids, but then again that could turn into a No Exit kind of situation. Have domestic-abuse rates risen, D.P. (During the Pandemic)?
I keep telling myself that if millions of Europeans could survive five years of the Second World War, surely we can survive a few more months until the scientists rescue us with a vaccine. After all, no one is shooting at us, or dropping bombs on us. Right? I try to imagine that future, A.P. (After the Pandemic), when everyone is out together, eating, drinking, listening to music, packed into movie theatres. Will we, even then, feel comfortable without masks? Will we be able to stop imagining the aerosolized clouds surrounding us and happily, obliviously inhale the exhalations of all those strangers? Will we ever live again as we used to?
A small percentage
of a small number is . . .
But a small percentage
of a large number is . . .
The percentage of infected people who die
is interesting, but
it’s the *number* of people killed & disabled that really . . .
Democratic policy wonks had better be drafting legislation to reverse the damage done by Trump and McConnell:
1. Obamacare+, after the Supreme Court’s imminent overturning of Obamacare.
2. Federal abortion rights legislation after Roe v. Wade is overturned.
3. Anti-gerrymandering legislation.
4. Genuine campaign-finance legislation to take the money out of politics, to the greatest degree possible.
5. Re-enactment of the Fairness Doctrine to mandate equal time for opposing views on TV and radio.
6. Legislation to replace all the “norms” ignored by the Republicans in the Trump era, e.g.,
•Appointment of Supreme Court judges
•Separation of Attorney General and Dept of Justice from politics
•Beefed up Hatch Act
•Laws to put teeth into the Emoluments Clause
•Laws to require government officials to testify when called by Congress
•A law specifying the conditions under which a sitting President may be prosecuted
. . . and so on!
[A variation on the late, great John Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven,” with apologies.]
While digesting Reader’s Digest
In the back of a dirty book shop,
I stumbled on a box of MAGA hats,
Twenty-five cents a pop.
Well, I picked one out and paid two bits,
Pulled it down it over my eyes,
And if I could meet that Melania Trump
She’d get an awful big surprise.
But your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven, not today,
The pandemic’s dead are sharing harps and taking turns to play,
And Jesus don’t like hatred, no matter what those liars say,
So your MAGA hat won’t get you into heaven anyway.
Well I went to the grocery store today
And the doorman said to me,
“I’m sorry, sir, you need to wear a mask
Here, we’ll give you one for free.”
“I don’t need no freakin’ mask,
I got a MAGA hat!” I said,
I went on in and bought a dozen eggs,
And a loaf of that whole-wheat bread.
Well, my MAGA hat kept slippin’ over my
Eyes so I couldn’t see.
I ran the car upside a curb
And right into a tree.
By the time they got a doctor down
I was already dead.
And I’ll never understand why the man
Standing in the Pearly Gates said…
There is only one race, the human race.
—Pearl Bailey, in The Raw Pearl (1968)
Pearl Bailey and drumming legend Louie Bellson married in 1952 and stayed that way until Bailey’s death 38 years later.
To Seamus O’Regan
Natural Resources Minister
House of Commons
Dear Mr. O’Regan,
I was very happy to hear you say on CBC’s “The House” that there is no path to net-zero without nuclear power.
I was opposed to the expansion of nuclear power for years, mostly out of concerns about safety and the problems surrounding disposal of nuclear waste. In the past few months, however, I have been giving nuclear power a hard second look, and my conclusion is exactly yours: there is no path to net-zero without nuclear power.
Furthermore, the concerns about nuclear safety and waste disposal have been exaggerated: these are manageable problems. They have been managed using first-generation technologies for half a century; they can be even better managed using third- and fourth-generation technologies going forward.
In addition, a significant nuclear industry in Alberta could re-employ oil-patch workers who have been laid off in recent years. And in developing countries around the world, rising energy demands for modernizing economies can only be met by nuclear power if we hope to address the slow catastrophe of climate change.
I hope you will continue to spread the word that expansion of a well-regulated nuclear power industry can safely address climate change, protect our environment, and re-energize our economy.
With my best wishes,
The rise of Trump and the modern Republican Party—soul-less and unprincipled—was made possible by institutional and structural flaws in American politics that have remained unchanged since 2016:
- A news media establishment that depends on advertising revenue and therefore seeks, above all else, attention—and is thus easily exploited by a master of distraction and sensation like Trump.
- A comfortable and smug Democratic Party establishment that has ignored systemic injustices, both racial and economic.
- The Electoral College, a remnant of the undemocratic features of the U.S. Constitution designed to protect established interests, including the slaveholding states of the South.
- The filibuster rule of the U.S. Senate, another anti-democratic tool used by those seeking to thwart reforms.
- A plethora of political and governmental “guard rails” that are simply norms, accepted practices with no basis in law, and which are therefore easily ignored without consequences for the offenders.
- A system of public education funded by local property taxes and therefore designed to maintain existing inequalities of wealth and class.
- A federal election system that is privately funded and wide-open to the most egregious abuses, effectively making all federal office-holders more or less beholden to their campaign donors.
Until these institutional features of U.S. government and politics change, American democracy will continue to produce chaos instead of good governance.
In Grade Nine, as the youngest member of the high school concert band’s percussion section, I was assigned the cymbal part for a long symphonic piece whose name I have forgotten.
On the night of the concert, the auditorium was filled with parents and students. I stood in the back row on the highest riser, a tall, skinny kid feeling uncomfortable. Partly my discomfort was due to the tie that was strangling me, but mostly it was because I had had very little rehearsal time for this number. There were, it seemed to me, about 5,000 measures of rest, including several repeated sections and other confusions along the way, before my single cymbal crash. The cymbals were heavy, 16 or 18 inches in diameter, and I stood for a long time, hands gripping the leather straps, a cymbal at each side resting lightly against my thighs. In vain I searched the music with one eye and kept the other on the band director as he conducted, hoping fervently that he would give me a sign when my moment was near.
To crash the cymbals properly, however, required some preparation. I had to raise them up in front of me, about six inches apart, one about twelve inches higher than the other. I worried that the band director, having more important matters at hand, would not alert me long enough before the crash to give me time to prepare. Finally it seemed to me that I had better get ready, so I raised the cymbals up to their proper positions and waited. Just as my arms were starting to quiver under the weight of the cymbals, the director looked at me and discreetly shook his head.
As inconspicuously as possible, I slowly lowered the cymbals and stood again with my hands at my sides. Only later did I realize that a tall, skinny boy raising a large pair of shiny cymbals in the back row provided, for most of the audience, the only real interest of the performance.
The piece continued, and I waited, hoping desperately for either a section of music that I recognized, or a sign from the conductor.
Once again, fearing I would miss my cue, I raised the cymbals, and waited. Again my arms began to tremble. Again the conductor shook his head, and again I lowered the cymbals slowly to my sides.
I can’t remember now whether this sequence repeated three times, or four, but finally, my arms now visibly shaking, the conductor nodded. With immense relief I recognized the crucial passage of the music, and I successfully crashed the cymbals, right on time.
My relief turned to shock, however, when—right in the middle of the piece—the entire audience erupted in applause! They had been waiting through almost the entire, dreary number for that cymbal crash. The tension caused by my repeated false starts must have been excruciating.
A week or so later, my French teacher kicked me out of class and sent me to the vice-principal’s office. She was angry with me because I refused to carry the heavy textbook home each night to complete her five-point homework assignments. “If you did your homework, you could have an A!” she shouted in exasperation. When I told her that I was quite happy with my B+, she kicked me out.
The vice-principal, hardened by constant experience with rather more serious discipline problems, listened to my story, looked at me without expression, blinked once, and invited me to sit down. “I really enjoyed that band concert,” he said. “You did a great job with those cymbals.”
Taken aback momentarily, I recovered my footing and we talked for several minutes about the weight of crash cymbals. We discussed the care one must take not to catch one’s tie in between the cymbals and thus spoil the crash. And so on. We pretty much exhausted the topic. Then he looked at me and asked, “Do you think she’ll let you back into class now?” He wrote a note for me and sent me back.
Premise 1: Climate change is real.
Premise 2: To avert catastrophe we must either drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel energy or replace it with carbon-free energy, or both.
Premise 3: The worldwide demand for energy is going to grow, not shrink.
Premise 4: Solar, wind, thermal, etc., will never meet that demand.
Premise 5: Even if “green” technologies could meet the demand, their manufacture requires more fossil fuel energy than they produce.
Conclusion: Therefore the only possible way to avert catastrophic climate change is to employ nuclear power on a large scale.
To do this will require . . .
1. Fail-safe reactor designs.
2. Safe management of nuclear waste.
3. Development of advanced reactors that can use the waste from older reactors as fuel.
George Monbiot is the well-regarded author of several books focusing on environmental issues. “In 1995, Nelson Mandela presented him with a United Nations Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement” (Wikipedia).
Understanding who we are and where we stand in the world is not something that happens at birth, or at any one point in our lives. It arises from questioning, challenging and reassessing ourselves every day. There is no one answer, and it does not stay still.
We acquire no useful knowledge of our world without determined study. We acquire no useful understanding of our world without constant investigation. We all have a duty, to ourselves and others, to see beyond the culture and beliefs into which we were born.
This might sound like a grind. But in truth, this quest will lead you to unimagined wonders and delights.—George Monbiot on Twitter@GeorgeMonbiot11 June 2020
Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.
Prologue: What Are You Angry About?
One fall when I was living in China, years ago, I had an upper respiratory infection that never quite cleared up. My asthma inhalers stopped working, even after I tried doubling my usual dose. The Singaporean doctor at the Western medical clinic finally threw his hands up. “I don’t have anything else I can do for you.” So with little to lose I went to the Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital, and after less than a week of drinking the herbal medicine prescribed by Dr. Zhou, I stopped using my inhalers altogether.
Needless to say, I became a regular patient. One day, as he felt my pulse, Dr. Zhou turned to me and said, “You’re angry.”
“Yes,” he said. “What are you angry about?”
I thought for a moment. “Injustice.”
Dr. Zhou laughed. “There’s a lot of that,” he said.
* * *
My political education began when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. I was eleven years old. Up until that point my understanding of American history came from the textbooks we read in the public schools. The Pilgrims sitting down for a convivial Thanksgiving feast with local Indians. The brave settlers clearing forests and creating rich farmland out of the wilderness. Brilliant self-taught inventors producing the machines that powered the Industrial Revolution and the growing wealth of the nation. Wise and noble leaders like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Of course there were villains and evil deeds in the story, but they were invariably defeated by the forces of justice. Slavery, that terrible mistake, was overturned in the Civil War. Corrupt politicians and businessmen were inevitably found out and punished. Abraham Lincoln followed in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers, and was followed in turn by FDR, who not only saved the nation from the Great Depression but led the fight in World War II that defeated Hitler and turned the United States into the world’s superpower. Think of it: the first modern democracy leading the world toward a future of progress, education, justice, and prosperity for all.
Then Kennedy was killed. The accused shooter was murdered while in police custody, and the official explanations made no sense. The government was almost certainly lying to us. Soon after, the Vietnam War expanded, and the lies accumulated. The U.S., it turned out, had been involved in assassinating the president of South Vietnam. Other assassinations or attempted assassinations of foreign leaders came to light, along with the complicity between the CIA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in manipulating small nations all over Latin America, Asia, and Africa for the profit of American corporations. At the same time the Civil Rights movement revealed to clueless whites like me the sordid facts about racial segregation in the South and the long history of discrimination, injustice, lynchings, and mob violence suffered by African-Americans since the end of Reconstruction in 1876 and, especially in the 20th century, in urban centers from New York to Los Angeles. As racial tensions increased and the antiwar movement grew, I was in high school and college, discovering the dark side of American history and culture. Discovering that I had been lied to, repeatedly. I felt betrayed. I was angry about the crimes committed by slaveowners, by exploitative capitalists, by the racist white majority, by the politicians and police departments and banks that perpetrated injustice at home and abroad. Langston Hughes’s searing description of the feelings of African-Americans toward the Southern homeland that so many of them had left in search of a better life resonated with my own bitter feelings of betrayal:
The lazy, laughing South
With blood on its mouth.
The sunny-faced South,
The child-minded South
Scratching in the dead fire’s ashes
For a Negro’s bones.
Cotton and the moon,
Warmth, earth, warmth,
The sky, the sun, the stars,
The magnolia-scented South.
Beautiful, like a woman,
Seductive as a dark-eyed whore,
That is the South.
And I, who am black, would love her
But she spits in my face.
And I, who am black,
Would give her many rare gifts
But she turns her back upon me.
So now I seek the North–
The cold-faced North,
For she, they say,
Is a kinder mistress,
And in her house my children
May escape the spell of the South.
—“The South,” by Langston Hughes
I had not suffered personally. I had not been an indigenous American, an African-American, an immigrant, a sharecropper. I had not been unemployed, or lived in a tenement house, or been drafted into the military and sent overseas to kill brown-skinned people for the Chamber of Commerce. But I deeply empathized with those who had, and I deeply resented their persecutors.
“You’re angry,” Dr. Zhou said.
“Yes,” he said. “What are you angry about?”
I thought for a moment. “Injustice.”
Dr. Zhou laughed. “There’s a lot of that,” he said.
More than half a century has passed since they murdered Jack Kennedy and got away with it. I am still angry. Sometimes I wonder, “Why in the world am I still angry, half a century later?” Most of the time, though, I wonder why everyone isn’t as angry as I am. Because, of course, the murder of Jack Kennedy was just one spectacular moment in a long, long series of crimes. Do nations have souls? Are they haunted by their sins, especially the ones they try to cover up and deny? It’s dishonesty, above all, that corrupts the soul. Redemption is possible, but not without repentance and confession. Since those first English freebooters arrived in Virginia hoping to find gold, America has been pretending that it has nothing to be ashamed of.
The Elephant in the Room
the elephant in the room: an obvious major problem or issue that people avoid discussing or acknowledging
Donald Trump was elected by a wave of racist reaction against eight years of America’s first African-American president; by racist fears of immigrants; by racist resentment of the decline of the white working class, especially in rural America and the Midwestern rust belt, where globalization left previously prosperous communities devastated; by racist resentment of urban centers that are invariably more multi-cultural and more inclined to vote Democratic; and by racist resentment of poor people of color, who are simultaneously blamed for taking jobs from whites and for running up the costs of social welfare programs because they are unemployed—not to mention their supposed propensities for crime and drug-taking.
Trump’s election was assisted by Russia’s stealth disinformation campaign, exploiting social media and turning the internet into history’s greatest propaganda tool. But it was made possible only by the anti-democratic Electoral College, an invention of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. My high school history books described the Electoral College as part of a compromise between “small states” and “large states” that was designed to ensure a balance of power between rural and urban communities. But it was also a compromise between the slave-holding southern states and the non-slave northern states, pushed by southerners’ fears that they would soon be outvoted by the more populous North. (The infamous Second Amendment, the sacred text underlying the nation’s unrelenting gun violence, was similarly pushed by slaveowners like Patrick Henry, who were terrified that the federal government would not come to their aid if the slaves rebelled.)
Since being elected, Trump and the Republicans have controlled the government thanks to the U.S. Senate, another anti-democratic creation of the Constitutional Convention that has kept power in the hands of—or at least within reach of—the (formerly) slaveholding states. Trump continues to play the race card whenever it suits his purposes, against immigrants from Latin America, against dark-skinned people from “shithole countries,” against brown-skinned Muslims invariably smeared as religious fanatics and terrorists, and most recently against the Chinese, convenient whipping-boys for Trump’s colossal mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis.
White resentment of the brown-skinned urban poor has been reinforced throughout America’s history by its success mythology, which holds that in America, anyone who is honest and hardworking can succeed. The obvious corollary of this deeply-engrained national myth is that poor people are poor because they are lazy and worthless. Racists have always viewed higher poverty rates among people of color as confirmation of the “white race’s” superiority. Racism has also conveniently divided poor whites from poor blacks, preventing them from uniting against the moneyed interests who have always taken a disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth and income. Trump has masterfully exploited these racist fears, resentments, and prejudices with the help of Fox News and right-wing talk-radio provocateurs whose toxic propaganda pervades rural America. As a result, Trump can lie repeatedly without losing support among his base, that 40-45% of mostly white, mostly rural, mostly working class voters who believe fervently that he is standing up for them against brown-skinned people, foreign and domestic, who are trying to take America away from the brave, honest, hardworking white people who made it “the greatest nation on earth.”
And so now, Donald Trump—the most corrupt and incompetent President in history—is in charge while the nation faces its greatest public health crisis in at least a century. The ringing, idealistic phrases of the Declaration of Independence and the speeches of Abraham Lincoln seem little more than a thin coat of paint on a house that has been rotting from within for centuries. Slavery and the century-and-a-half of racism that has followed its abolition are not an aberration or anomaly. They are not an unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing side-note to an otherwise proud story of liberty and democracy in the New World. Rather, slavery and the decades of racism that have followed its abolition are at the core of America’s story. The same Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” was a slaveowner who, after his wife died, slept with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and fathered several children by her—children he never acknowledged as his. Racism remains at the core of America’s politics. It explains why, at a moment of crisis, the nation is being led by an ignorant con-man.
In 1675 the Wampanoags rose up against the Puritan colonizers who had first arrived in “New England” a generation earlier. The settlers called the three-year conflict that followed “King Philip’s War” because they could not pronounce the name of the Wampanoag chief, Metacom, and called him King Philip instead. Rather than recognize that indigenous Americans were justly outraged at being colonized by foreigners from across the sea, the settlers concluded that God was using the Indians to punish them for their private sins. Before organizing themselves to exterminate the Indians, the settlers went to church to pray, fast, and beg God to forgive them. They interpreted their eventual victory as a sign that their prayers had been heard. In my darkest moments, that story represents American history in miniature: ignorant, self-righteous white people committing crime after crime while believing all the while that God is on their side.
It is hard to imagine how anything less than a second American Revolution could put an end to the Electoral College, the anti-democratic Senate, the racist gerrymandering of congressional districts, the de facto segregation baked into American communities, and all the other consequences of racism that are dragging the nation toward a dismal demise. It is even harder to imagine a second American Revolution.
* * *
Of course the full story is more complicated and more nuanced. The concerns of small states were real in 1787, and those small states included non-slave states like Rhode Island. The United States has never been a nation in the French sense of the word; it is rather a federation of states, and each of those states, north and south, has always had a strong sense of independence from, and presumptive opposition to, anything coming from the central government in Washington. As for the nation’s gun-mania, the western frontier was a dominant feature of American life from the earliest settlements of the 1600s right up until almost the end of the 1800s, and remained central to the American imagination far beyond that time. The country’s continued obsession with individual gun rights certainly has a lot to do with that history. And so on. The story can be told that way.
So much depends on how the story is told.
For most of my life, the story has been told in a way that has minimized and marginalized slavery and, to an even greater extent, racism. Incidents of white violence against blacks were often simply omitted from the narrative. The story of the economic impact of slavery and the 19th-century cotton trade was minimized. The nationwide institutionalized racism of police departments and banking policies like red-lining were not included. Incidents of racial discrimination or violence were always presented as deplorable but exceptional cases. Even the story of the Civil War itself was told in such a way that black people were almost totally absent. The truth is, white supremacists of the northern states—including Abraham Lincoln—did not fight to free the slaves, but to preserve the Union. (Yes, Lincoln was a white supremacist. As kind and considerate as he was, personally, he believed the only permanent solution to America’s race problem was to send the slaves and their descendants back to Africa.) Meanwhile the white supremacists of the South lost the war, but after a decade of Reconstruction they regained their footing and won the peace. And their version of events has dominated the national narrative ever since, despite the hagiography of Abe Lincoln. Northern whites turned a blind eye to Jim Crow segregation and lynchings in the South for most of a century after the Civil War because what they cared about was preserving the Union, and one way to do that was to construct a narrative of national unity that minimized racial divisions.
If, however, one looks at American history with slavery and racism in the foreground instead of putting them in the background and off to the side, the continuities become obvious and the short version of the story becomes something like what I have written above. Has there been progress when it comes to “race relations” in the United States? Of course. But the racist sentiments among white Americans, and the racist institutions of American politics like the Electoral College, the Senate, and gerrymandered Congressional districts continue. Put together, they have led to the election of Donald Trump and the dominance of a Republican Party stripped of any principle beyond holding onto power by whatever despicable means are available. Can the minority of Americans who embrace a progressive vision of social and economic justice in a multicultural nation prevail against the stubborn legacy of racism in America’s culture and political institutions? I very much doubt it.
* * *
Despite this sordid history of slavery and racism, of lynchings and riots and mob violence, of chronic discrimination against minorities by police, by employers, by landlords, by nobodies for no particular reason—despite this, most Americans of all races and incomes and social classes remain optimistic and patriotic to a degree that is almost childlike. A friend once asked me, “Considering all the people you have met from different cultures and nations all over the world, who do African-Americans most resemble?” I thought for a few moments, then gave up. My friend smiled. “White Americans!” And I realized immediately how right he was. Presidential candidates as different as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama find ways to appeal to the deep vein of optimism that runs through the entire nation. It’s “Morning in America!” “Hope and change!” “Yes, we can!” Optimism and sentimentality make the sale in America, every time. Critics are a downer. They’re so negative. They turn people off. Most Americans don’t want to hear about all the defects and problems and injustices. So when someone even says the word racism, the negative response follows immediately. Talking to many white Americans about racism is like talking to men in a gentleman’s club about feminism. No one wants to hear it. “If you don’t like this country, go find a better one, if you can. But you can’t, and you know it, so just shut up.” That’s basically the response.
It is dishonesty, above all, that corrupts the soul.
If the optimism were honest and clear-sighted, I could accept it, even embrace it. But because it is blind and dishonest, it provokes me. If someone mentions the Pilgrims and their “city on a hill,” I remind them of the genocide of indigenous Americans that rendered the hill largely depopulated and open for English colonizers. If they mention the can-do American spirit that created the richest nation on earth, I begin dourly to point out that millions of African slaves created most of the nation’s wealth. I make myself disagreeable. I want to push their noses in it, to wake them up.
They don’t want to wake up because they are in love with the idea of America, the Platonic ideal of America, the dream of America. The American dream. Winners and losers, rich and poor, white black brown yellow green and purple, they all dream America. Americans are dreamers.
* * *
And there is something so powerful about that dream. Martin Luther King, Jr., could see clearly, but still preached about the dream. Ray Charles sang “America the Beautiful.” And the taxi driver I once met, who was interested in history, exemplified American optimism. I spoke about the sins of Thomas Jefferson, but he was unpersuaded. “Maybe none of that is really important,” the taxi driver said. “Maybe all that matters is those beautiful words, that beautiful idea.”
I agree with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative when he says that “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” Thomas Jefferson was much more than a slave-owning hypocrite. But he was, also, a slave-owning hypocrite, and the nation he helped to found has never resolved the contradictions that he embodied. America has never resolved the contradiction of being a nation whose pre-eminent value is freedom, and whose wealth was founded on slavery. History, as they say, is long, while life is short, and perhaps it is only my deficient perspective, limited by a mere human lifetime, that makes me pessimistic about America.
As one of America’s great authors once wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
I don’t know how I have overlooked Thoreau during the first two months of the pandemic’s enforced “social isolation” regime. This is from the fifth chapter of Walden (1854), entitled “Solitude”:
I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows. The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert. The farmer can work alone in the field or the woods all day, hoeing or chopping, and not feel lonesome, because he is employed; but when he comes home at night he cannot sit down in a room alone, at the mercy of his thoughts, but must be where he can “see the folks,” and recreate, and as he thinks remunerate himself for his day’s solitude; and hence he wonders how the student can sit alone in the house all night and most of the day without ennui and “the blues;” but he does not realize that the student, though in the house, is still at work in his field, and chopping in his woods, as the farmer in his, and in turn seeks the same recreation and society that the latter does, though it may be a more condensed form of it.
There was an old man of Victoria
Who suffered from chronic euphoria.
The doc shook his head,
And sadly he said,
“There’s no more that I can do for ya.”
I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: thats what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that hes up agen middle class morality all the time. If theres anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: “Youre undeserving; so you cant have it.” But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I dont need less than a deserving man: I need more. I dont eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything.
—G. B. Shaw, “Pygmalion” (1914)