Worldviews, Personality and Communication

Whenever I’m involved in an interpersonal conflict, I immediately start thinking of personality differences.

I do focus on what people are saying, but I have a tendency to put a lot of emphasis on how they say it and what is behind what they are saying. I look to the motivations, the perceptions and the communication styles. I look to the beliefs and assumptions, the worldview or even the reality tunnel they live in.

In the present situation of conflict, my focus has been on someone who goes by the name hbd chick. The conflict really gets me thinking for the reason I feel very little negativity toward her. I love her blog. I respect her typically humble attitude and I’m impressed by her research abilities. But there is some difference between her and I, some difference that may be at a more fundamental level of our respective psychologies.

I don’t like conflict. I’m more of a conflict-avoidant type, but at times I feel drawn into conflict because of another side of my personality. I’m an Myers-Briggs INFP which means I’m fully capable of being insufferably idealistic and even asshole-ish in my defense of my core values. I have speculated that my problem is that I’m an FP (Fi) who was raised by TJ (Te) parents (TJ representing the aspirational and often the most annoying weakness of an INFP). I think I’ve overcompensated a bit in the TJ department and such not-perfectly-functional Te is what can really bring out the asshole in me.

I don’t like being an asshole, but I’m apparently good at it. I hold stuff in until I can’t hold it in any longer. The result is that I become critical and unforgiving.

Anyway, the odd thing is that hbd chick says that she also is an INFP and close to being an INTP. I wonder about that. If I had to guess, I get more of an INTP vibe from her. But it is hard to tell when you don’t know someone personally. Maybe the T is more of her online persona. This might explain my own dysfunctional T getting antagonized in response.

Going by her being an INFP, my criticisms of her should really annoy her. I seem to have been judging her by that T aspect I sensed in her, but she doesn’t see that as being her true self, as she says “at heart”.

This conflict is exacerbated further because of my particular annoyance in trying to find a way to interact with a guy who goes by the name JayMan, both hbd chick and JayMan being HBD proponents. His personality most definitely is different than my own. He has that T vibe without a doubt, especially TJ. He argues for the complete separation of the subjective and objective in exploring the issues of human society and human nature. I can tell you this. No normally functioning FP, in particular no INFP, would likely make such an argument.

That expresses what would be called a thick boundary type (see boundaries of the mind). I must admit I don’t play well with thick boundary types. My mind is pretty damn thin boundaried. In discussions, my thoughts go in a million directions. My thin boundaries is why I constantly see confounding factors in almost everything and JayMan’s apparent thicker boundaries are why he sees my complaints as irrelevant. He is a man who is intently and adamantly focused on what he (thinks he) knows and believes which isn’t to say he is necessarily wrong, just that he is very certain that he is right. Thick boundary types tend to feel more certain, in fact demand more certainty. In Myers-Briggs terms, this is what Judging (J) is about.

I’m of a different variety. I’m an INFP with heavy emphasis on the NP part (Ne). Extraverted iNtuition (Ne) is the single most absolute expression of the thin boundary type. I live in eternal uncertainty with a wide horizon of possibilities. Questions leading to doubts leading to wonder leads to imagining. I live my life contemplating the strangeness of reality, my head stuck in the clouds. To focus on a single theory or a single set of data would be nearly impossible for me.

My Te aspirational can make me a rabid researcher when it is in full gear, but Ne inevitably sends my mind off in new directions.

What I sense with the HBD crowd is that it attracts a lot more thick boundary types or at least those with thick boundary online personas. Either way, this means that it attracts people who want to focus on topics that focus on thick boundaries and in ways that are thick boundaried. I don’t mean extreme thick boundaries, but a tendency in that direction. The emphasis of HBD is on the boundaries between ethnicities, clans, regions, nations, etc. They have less interest in that which transcends, merges and blurs boundaries.

To my thin boundary mind, boundaries are imagined things. They are only real to the extent we imagine them to be real. The thin boundary type sees a less thick or clear boundary between even imagination and reality. It is because of this mentality that I look for how people, individually and collectively, project their imaginations onto reality.

This puts me a bit in opposition to the HBD mentality. Hence, the conflict. Cue the frustration.

HBD Proponents, Racists and Racialists

I came across a typical racist blog post that is posing as being intellectually credible.

It is typical in its racism, but I suppose I should at least give credit to the blogger for being atypical in putting some effort into defending his racism. Basically, he gathers together all the data that shows blacks are bad and inferior, ignores any positive data and dismisses out of hand the entire history and context behind the data. Also, he only focuses on his own preferred scapegoat group while not pointing out similar problems and other problems among whites, not to mention among Americans in general when compared to other countries (see here, here and here).

It’s important that we don’t ignore arguments like this, even though they are motivated by racism. We should never let a single injustice go by unchallenged. This goes back to what I was saying in my last post. A racist, like any other true believer, is beginning with a generalization and then cherrypicks the particulars that conform to their preconceived conclusion. This is why, in that post, I emphasized the particulars. The details of reality are messy and don’t easily fit into simple categories.

It is so hard to respond to people like this because of a simple truth Lionel Trilling once expressed:

“Where misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood.”

But I’m a fool for truth. So I feel compelled to try, and I did try. I left a comment at that post which was deleted. Hence, my presenting my thoughts here.

By the way, I came across this racist blog post because hbd chick posted it with a bunch of links.

I like and respect hbd chick. She isn’t a racist and, as with me, she would point out that poor rural Southern whites have their problems as well. Even then, she admits that she is speculating and hasn’t objectively proven anything (in the scientific sense). Still, the fact that she would post this racist link in her blog demonstrates a problem that is common among the proponents of human biodiversity (HBD).

If HBD blogs are to be used as a platform for racists, that brings discredit to HBD. I think that would be a shame because bloggers like hbd chick have a lot that is worthy to offer.

HBD attracts some overt racists and even among those who aren’t racist they often don’t recognize or acknowledge racism. The issue of racism is an uncomfortable truth which, to the conservative-minded, is a politically incorrect issue to be denied and dismissed rather than discussed. Many HBD proponents seem less interested in taking a moral stance and prefer instead to claim they are just objectively presenting data. If they do this, they are shifting the blame to the cherrypicked data and denying responsibility for having cherrypicked the data in the first place.

Of course, it is a moral issue and those involved are taking a moral stance. Data never speaks for itself. It is we who use data in support of our speaking.

From a rational perspective, there are two basic problems with the racist argument and sometimes with the non-racist HBD argument.

First, correlation is not causation, but it can imply it. I’m very interested in correlations and so I don’t mean to dismiss them. I take them very seriously which is why I take seriously the responsibility to not use them in a dishonest or prejudiced way.

Second, the reason correlation is not causation is because correlating data by itself doesn’t meet scientific standards. Using careful research methods, one has to prove a correlation is valid and that it has a causal relationship. Also, one needs to control for all known confounding factors.

That is a high standard to live up to. Nonetheless, for the intellectually honest, it is the standard one must live up to if one wants to be taken seriously. Racists and the intellectually lazy, however, are unwilling to strive for such intellectual self-responsibility.

I was particularly pointing out the aspect of confounding factors. There are so many of them, a whole history of them in fact.

For the record, here is the deleted comment I submitted to the racist post:

It is hard to respond such arguments because the author doesn’t consider the confounding factors. Looking at correlations without looking at confounding factors is the complete opposite of helpful.

If socio-economic class and systemic racial prejudice were taken into account, what would remain of many racial differences. I have yet to see this fully analyzed, but there sure are a lot of opinions. I must admit I get tired of opinions in search of supporting data rather than people merely seeking data to learn what might be discovered.

Here is what has been proven and yet ignored by the likes of the author.

More whites do drugs than blacks, but more blacks are in prison for drugs. Studies have shown that blacks are more often pulled over by police than whites, more often have criminal charges brought against them than whites for the same behaviors, are more likely to be judged more harshly by juries than whites for the same crimes, and more likely to be punished more harshly by judges than whites for the same crimes. These are the inconvenient truths that most Americans don’t want to face.

Poverty and lack of social mobility are major problems facing minorities, the former increasing and the latter decreasing in America these past decades. This of course relates to racism. Data has shown how discrimination has limited opportunities for blacks for many generations now. There was discrimination during the Progressive Era government assistance programs. There has been discrimination since involving housing, employment and bank loans.

We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact. Like blacks, what these rural whites share is poverty, lack of opportunity, and a long history of oppression/scapegoating by the upper classes.

We all know this. It is no longer an issue that can be argued. Why can’t we have an honest discussion about all of this? What would be so horrible about objectively looking at all the data instead of cherrypicking what fits our preconceived conclusions?

What we don’t know is, after all these confounding factors are accounted for, what remains for the differences in crimes and IQ. Many are willing to offer opinions, but few opinions are very well informed on the matter. We need to get serious about this and quite playing scapegoating games.

America has massive problems of racism and classism that are inseparable from problems of poverty, economic inequality and social mobility. These problems are larger than any other problems we face.

To offer context, I’ve previously argued about this issue with HBD proponents. So this isn’t new territory I’m treading – for example, see: IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data. In another post about IQ and racism, someone going by the name Szopeno commented and I responded thusly:

“Do blacks in the south and north are the same biologically-wise?”

Most of the blacks in the North came from the same population of blacks in the South. And before that most blacks in America came from the same few tribes in Africa.

“E.g. it would be enough that only smarter blacks were emigrating north; that would create a pattern you have shown, without creating any need to appeal to poverty rates.”

There is no known evidence that this was the case or none that I know of. Why speculate about an unknown (only smarter blacks were emigrating north) when we can theorize on the proven facts (poverty and related factors have negative impact on cognitive development and IQ). Nonetheless, that would as I argued still disprove the white supremacists.

“No to mention of course the question of admixture – Jensen in g factor wrote that white admixture is higher in northern blacks than in south.”

You could only argue this by ignoring some of the known facts. The Southern whites who have some of the lowest IQs in the country don’t have more black genetics. They are among some of the whitest of whiteys around. As I pointed out in a recent post, Southern blacks are found in greatest concentration precisely where the Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish are found in the least concentration.

There are only two known commonalities between American blacks in general and American whites in the South. They are both environmental commonalities. First, as Thomas Sowell argues, blacks have a culture similar to poor Southern whites, a culture they certainly inherited from their time in the South and brought North with the mass migration. Second, the only other known commonality is poverty. Genetics is the very thing that most separates poor low IQ blacks and poor low IQ whites.

“All I say that what you have presented here is not an argument which could convince hereditarians.”

All the facts in the world couldn’t convince many hereditarians. I don’t deny the known facts about heredity and I actually find that field interesting, but I will never understand those who will ignore or dismiss known facts for the sake of speculation that better fits their interpretive lense. Why not begin with what we know? Why not go with the simplest explanation first?

That is not an atypical interaction with many HBD proponents. A whole lot of speculation on limited data. I have no problem with speculation, but I usually prefer to limit my speculation to the data. It’s not as if the HBD proponent is making an entirely unintelligent argument. They just seem overly attached to a particular conclusion or theory which makes one suspicious of their biases, possibly their prejudices as well.

I don’t know the data about ethnic genetic ratios in regional US populations. Let me assume that Northern blacks have more European genetics. Why would we jump to the conclusion that Northern blacks having higher average IQs is genetically caused? More European genetics also means lighter skin and hence, as has been proven, less racial prejudice experienced. Isn’t that a simpler explanation? Unless we scientifically know of a precise gene that makes blacks stupid, why would we want to believe that is the case? The only reason we’d do so is for the sake of racial bias, whether overt racism or unconscious racialism.

Besides, I’ve found most people making this argument find it inconvenient to acknowledge that many blacks have large percentages of European genetics. It is hard to be racist or racialist when the boundaries are blurred between the races. As for me, I find it fascinating that the average African American is about 1/5 European and 1 in 10 African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics. So, as for those 1 in 10, why do we call them African Americans in the first place? Also, what makes them ‘black’ if their skin color is closer to Europeans than native Africans?

Oh, the confounding factors! What is one to do!?!

My comment to the racist blog post was also added to the comments section of hbd chick’s blog (and she has the intellectual evenhandedness to let almost anyone post, even critics which is why I like and respect her even when I disagree with her). The only person so far to respond to my comment there was a someone called bleach:

“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America. But those who point out the problems of blacks never seem to notice or acknowledge this disconcerting fact.”

Uhh maybe because the “fact” is total bullshit, you just made it up and keep repeating it without any evidence. AE has the actual numbers:

Southern whites aren’t even the most violent amongst just whites; southwestern whites are. But the more important fact is how much higher, monumentally higher, the black rates are for every state.

Which everyone who wasn’t a hick from a 99% white Midwestern zip code KNEW ALREADY.

I’m not even going to bother with the rest of your claims, there is no reason to believe they have any truth when you keep repeating falsehoods and provide no data for anything. No one needs the opinion of an ignorant liberal hick on race relations, either. Have you even met any real life black people yet?

What is so interesting about his comment there is that he also commented on my post White Supremacy Defeated… yet again. His recent comment shows no knowledge of our ever having discussed this before. It is as if such people live in a bubble. Even when interacting with them, they aren’t listening to you or hearing anything other than the voices in their self-constructed echo chamber.

I’d previously explained the data to him. It isn’t just state by state data. It is data that is a combination of looking at both the North/South divide and the urban/rural divide. It’s not just that all Southerners are more violent, but that specifically white rural Southerners are the most violent. As for states over all, it would partly depend on which Southern states have higher ratios of rural whites to urban whites.

Also, he missed the entire point of confounding factors. What do poor rural whites and poor urban blacks have in common? Poverty. And what historical circumstances do they share in being poor? Centuries of oppression and prejudice, specifically in the South. Most of the poor rural whites are of Celtic ancestry. The upper class whites in the South have always looked down upon them. Before that, the upper class whites of Britain also looked down upon them.

For both poor blacks and whites, this has often been a severely violent history with political disenfranchisement. If poor whites are showing such problems without ever having experienced slavery, is it so surprising that blacks have had an uphill climb? When my parents were growing up, Jim Crow was still in effect. Even today, studies show that racism continues, including institutionalized racism.

These racists and racialist fellow travelers have never proven that these problems are anything other than the direct results of centuries of racism and classism. Yet they claim others as enforcing political correctness when those others point out inconvenient data that contradicts their cherrypicked data. The confounding factors are so numerous and complex that I doubt any scientific research has yet been able to control for all of them. It is so vast of a problem that we don’t know how to face it as a society.

It’s not as if I’m denying that genetics plays a role in human behavior and cognitive ability. But any theory proposed has to be scientifically proven with scientific data provided by scientific research. Just correlating a bunch of data found online isn’t the same thing as doing science. I love correlating data as much as the next blogger, but I take it for what it is.

In my thoughts, I return to my post about generalities vs particulars. The particulars are messy and can feel overwhelming whereas generalities can feel comforting as they give the appearance of providing simple conclusions and an orderly understanding, but the danger is this is too often superficial and deceptive.

To be a truth-seeker is to accept the responsibility of the moral force of truth, in all of its complexity and uncertainty. Yes, it is uncomfortable and sometimes even disconcerting. There are few easy answers and absolute knowns. But the alternative is much worse.

In my previous post, I presented two ways of focusing on data, the general vs the particular. There is also two ways to use data. You can use data as a way to speak truth to power or else you can use data to kick people while they are down. The sad part about the latter way is that the whole reason the poor, whether whites or blacks, are down in the first place is because they were kicked to the ground and have been continuously kicked ever since. After all this, to keep kicking them is to ensure they stay down. If we stop kicking them for a moment, who knows what might happen? For instance, they might stand up for themselves

What are the racists and racialists afraid of if they quit kicking the downtrodden and let them stand up with the rest of humanity?

If after that they fall down on their own, then be an asshole and point that out. But at least quick kicking them in the meantime. Heck, maybe even offer them a helping hand. Could you imagine if we gave these groups the same amount of assistance and compassion that they have received in oppression and prejudice? The worst part is those who like to kick the helpless the most are precisely those who have benefited the most and inherited the benefit of those who have gained the most from keeping those other people down.

All I can say is there are some sick assholes in the world.

Instead of just looking at the results of social problems, why don’t we look to the cause of social problems? The ethnic/racial ruling elite that existed in America’s oppressive past is basically the same ethnic/racial ruling elite that exists in America’s dysfunctional present. Is that mere coincidence? I think not.

I was imagining a truly worthy version of a HBD advocate. There is a worthy aspect to HBD theory. The data is interesting, but it is just a tiny piece of the puzzle.

I didn’t so much like the links offered by hbd chick, but I do like her blog. She is smart and I appreciate how data-driven she is, not in a cherrypicking kind of way. However, her focus is rather narrow on just HBD and so she mostly just looks at certain kinds of data and often doesn’t seem interested in data outside of that. I can’t blame her for following her interests, but I still can’t deny the sense that HBDers like her don’t appreciate the moral imperative of truth-seeking and truth-telling. It’s not just data. Human lives are involved.

I’m not an ideologue in the political sense and also not in the sense of having loyalty to theories. Even with my favored viewpoints, I’m only likely to defend them to the extent that they act as a proxy in my seeking balance with other perspectives and to the extent they act as conduits toward a greater field of understanding (which is why they are favored viewpoints in the first place). For example, I strongly appreciate Myers-Briggs and personality theory/research of all sorts, but I’m not overly identified with Myers-Briggs being absolutely true, although it is a theory that I’ve probably studied more than any other.

It isn’t just a loyalty thing. It’s obvious that hbd chick likes her own HBD theory, but she’ll admit to it possibly being wrong. So, she is less loyal than some HBDers. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop her from remaining intently focused on a narrow band of data. My mind, however, wanders. I constantly have my toes in many pools. This allows me to see broad connections, the type of broad connections I rarely come across in any HBD blog.

I’ve had conflicts with HBDers such as JayMan because of this. JayMan’s blog is subtitled “Where Sacred Cows Go To Die”, but apparently that only applies to other people’s sacred cows. As for Jayman’s sacred cows, he’ll defend them at all costs. He has great loyalty to HBD, but moreso it is a narrow focus that seems motivated by a sense of thick boundaries. HBDers are particularly obsessed with boundaries between races, ethnicities and nations. I, on the other hand, am very thin boundaried in comparison.

I’m not an anything-goes universalist that wants to throw the borders open and let anarchism rule the land, although that would be an interesting experiment to do under the right conditions. But certainly, unlike most HBDers, I’m not an ethnocentric nationalist. I’ve noticed that there is an imperialist bias in the thinking of many HBDers. This became apparent in a discussion I was having in a post by hbd chick. Oddly, I’m apparently both more liberal and more libertarian than the average HBDer I’ve dealt with. I responded to that post with a post of mine where I discussed this issue of defense of empire as a defense of ethnocentrism.

There is nothing wrong in being narrowly focused. It makes hbd chick an impressive researcher. She focuses in on a particular area and it is amazing what she can dig up. However, it also leads to massive blindspots because of a lack of seeing the bigger picture and fully appreciating far different perspectives. One thing I notice is how rarely she discusses politics and world events. The type of analysis offered by someone like Noam Chomsky doesn’t even seem to exist in her world of data. I couldn’t even find any of her posts that included the likes of John Gray (the philosopher), Morris Berman and Wendell Berry. I haven’t come across a single HBDer who comes close to offering the subtle and wide-ranging insight of a Joe Bageant and certainly not the moral vision of a Thomas Paine, both being great examples of speaking truth to power.

One would think that HBDers would have a better ability to see outside of cultural biases, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think the problem is that most of them don’t want to see other cultural views, either to understand them on their own terms or to understand their criticisms of American and Western culture. Understanding others doesn’t seem to be their main priority. People aren’t individuals. They are races, ethnicities, clans and nationalities. Most HBDers are smart people. It’s just they seem strongly driven by an agenda or maybe just strongly attached to their cultural comfort zone.

I’m trying to get into the mindset of why someone like hbd chick would post links to racist blog posts. To her mind, I’m sure she doesn’t see the racism at all. She just sees a blogger correlating data. She sees the data but not the lives behind the data. Certainly, what she doesn’t see is the cherrypicking and the ignoring of confounding factors. Even if I pointed this out to her, she still wouldn’t likely see it. It simply isn’t part of her HBD reality tunnel.

I remember the first serious lengthy discussion I had with JayMan. I found his view interesting, but I couldn’t get him to understand my view.

I pointed out the confounding factors and it didn’t change his mind. It was as if the confounding factors didn’t exist. He was sure it had to be a genetic explanation because that is what he was looking for. He expected to find genetics and so couldn’t see the relevance of what he didn’t expect. It was strange to my mind, this narrow focus.

I tried to broaden his perspective by pointing out that these confounding factors matter because of the implications of ignoring them, but he didn’t find the idea of morality compelling. He saw himself as an objective researcher looking for objective data. Genes were in his mind more objectively real than the people influenced by the ideas he was advocating.

I suspect something similar with hbd chick. although with less obtuseness. When I speak of truth as moral imperative, that probably would make no sense to her. She would deny having such a responsibility to truth and morality. She might like truth and choose to communicate it in her own way, but not because of a moral imperative. The fact that linking to a racist blog post has moral implications wouldn’t seem relevant to her. Like JayMan, she likely would see herself as just an objective researcher looking for objective data.

Morality and ethics is the one area I never see discussed in HBD blogs. It is all about the data. The framework of HBD is scientific or, I would argue, in many cases pseudo-scientific. There is an insular nature to the HBD community. They are mostly talking amongst themselves and preaching to the choir. A moral perspective would require them to peak their heads outside this ideological enclave and look at the larger world of people with other views, a world that where their beliefs and ideas lead to real consequences, not just for them and their group but for everyone.

I think that ends my time commenting at hbd chick’s blog. It just is too frustrating being the only voice pointing out uncomfortable truths to an audience that doesn’t want to know uncomfortable truths. They don’t want to hear it and I’ve done all I can do at this point. *sigh*

I’m brought back to Tim Wise’s insight: The ultimate privilege of being a member of a privileged group is not having to know or acknowledge your privilege nor the systemic and institutionalized privilege throughout society. It takes a lot to force a privileged person to confront their own privilege. That is a rare event.

As a society, our only hope is to help the next generation understand before they become identified with the system of privilege, specifically in terms of the society of ethnocentric imperialism. We need to encourage the questioning of our society, deep soul-searching and most of all speaking truth to power. Could you imagine a society that put truth before all else, specifically truth as a moral imperative? I’d love to live in that society.

On a related topic, I thought I’d point out another link that hbd chick included in her post. It is Kinship or Citizenship? by Steve Sailer, the author being one of the most well known HBD defenders. Basically, he is attacking the poor, powerless minority groups for supposedly being clannish and hence their supposed unfairly picking on all the wealthier, more powerful white folk. I decided to point out this article for how well the comments section tore apart his argument:

Rebecca Trotter says:
I don’t think it’s victim groups we have to worry about. Rather, the new clans who act in their own interests without regard for their fellow man or citizens are the hyper-rich, the Ivy league elites, wall street masters of the universe. Even Obama could only benefit from his race because of his position as the child of academic elites and a member of the Ivy league. It’s a minutely tiny number of minorities who are able to leverage their “victim status” for any gain! For the overwhelming majority being part of a minority group is still a major disadvantage and media concocted fears of the white majority aside, that’s unlikely to change for the foreseeable future. The clannish nature of our wealthy elites has been well documented and is probably the biggest threat to our democracy that America has ever faced. The pap we are fed to argue over is nothing more than a distraction.

Northern Observer says:
Sailer writes a nice essay and blows it all in his conclusion. If we are to take the idea of tribalism and clan politics seriously in America than we need to admit that the most dominant clan in America is the Southern White Conservative tribe. It is the behaviour of this political clan grouping that will determine the quality of political life in America for some time to come. The ongoing drift of this tribe’s politics to romantic irrationalism is something to worry about. In the big picture, homosexuals and African Americans are small potatoes. The Southern tribe’s rejection of the responsibilities of citizenship, as epitomized by the GOP controlled House and State Legislatures, is the most alarming political development in America today.

Frank Stain says:
It is an old and rather tiresome tactic of racists to suggest that the marginalized group identities formed by the efforts of the majority to defend its cultural privileges are in fact ‘clannish’ behavior. Hitler in fact argued specifically in Mein Kampf that the Jews are more clannish than other people, and act in concert to promote a Jewish agenda. Rather than the concentration of Jews in finance being a result of their exclusion from areas of communal endeavor, it appears to the anti-semite as evidence for the ‘clannish’ nature of the Jew.
Similarly, Steve Sailor is suggesting here that the efforts of blacks, Latinos, and Gays to claim full citizenship, and to reject the exclusions foisted upon them by white christians, are evidence of ‘clannish’ behavior, rather than an attempt to construct an ideal of full citizenship beyond the exclusions of race, sexual identity, and religion.

Eric says:
Does he have anything to say about the old WASP clan and its loss of power in this country?

Fran Macadam says:
Loyalty to clan precedes when citizenship no longer confers any benefit. Oligarchy is a form of superclan from which the mass of citizenry are excluded, by force if necessary. No wonder that this style of “warlord” governance, updated for the 21st century, has established and defends democratically unaccountable secret police tactics, such as mass surveillance and “homeland security” applied to all those outside their clan, to whom granting any real power would threaten their hegemony.

As for anyone reading this who cares about truth, including that of confounding factors, I’ll offer you the data:

In my major post about the North/South divide, it was the first time I explored the issue of violence and the South. I included an article by The Atlantic, The Scots-Irish Vote by Cameron Joseph. That article is a good introduction to the research done on the culture of honor. As general commentary, further down in my post, I add these thoughts:

…obesity rates (in developed countries) are correlated to both poverty and high wealth disparity (whereas, in developing countries, obesity and poverty are negatively correlated). So, societies with high wealth disparity tend to have higher obesity rates and societies with low wealth disparity tend to have lower obesity rates. But the real interesting part is that even wealthy people have higher obesity rates in societies with high wealth disparity. The explanation is that high wealth disparity societies tend to be more stressful places to live with higher rates of violence, bullying and social conflict. All of this stress impacts the poor and wealthy alike. The body responds, as a survival mechanism, to stress by increasing fat reserves. This is particularly true for babies whose mothers experienced high rates of stress while pregnant, in which case the body becomes permanently set at fat reserve mode.

I came across another example offering support for egalitarianism. Some conservatives like to point out the fact that gays have higher rates of suicide, implying homosexuality is unnatural and inferior. But, of course, it’s rather convenient for conservatives to ignore their own complicity. A study showed that “Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights”. When one group is singled out and treated unequally, all people in that social environment will suffer the consequences.

My point being that it is hardly surprising to find problems in an unhealthy and unjust society. It is also more than unsurprising that the worst victims of such a society show the worst problems. When talking about race and ethnicity, we are talking about problems that have their roots in the distant past. There hasn’t been a moment in the history of this country that these problems haven’t existed.

These kinds of problems came up again with the Trayvon Martin murder. In my post about it, I included a massive number of links and quotes. It is disheartening when you take it all in. It reminded me of a local case involving the death of John Bior Deng which I wrote about and added another post about the issues of racism and classism.

There are a few other posts of mine I haven’t mentioned yet which go to the heart of the data:

Disturbing Study Highlights Racism

Institutional Racism & Voting Rights

Obama vs The Bell Curve

Race & Wealth Gap

Prison Insanity

Old, Male, White, Religious, Rich Republicans Are Happy! Surprise, Surprise!

General American and the Particulars of Our Origins

There are two ways to look at history and cultures: the general and the particular.

In studying cultures, the focus can tend toward the general because ‘culture’ is a general concept, more about the group than the individual. But I’ve increasingly come to understand the central importance of specifics within cultures and within the forming of cultures. Specific cultures, after all, are made up of specific details.

An example of the importance of the particular is the founding effect. A particular group with a particular background has a particular impact in a particular place and time. It is the convergence of particulars that becomes focused on a single location. Only later can we speak of a general culture that formed from this particular starting point.

Then again, all those prior particulars also arose out of a field of generalized patterns.

 It is an ever-growing web of connections and relationships. Every cause being an effect of something else. And every effect being a cause in turn. The overview gives us a context for the specifics while the specifics give substance to the overview.

My focus has been on Quakers because of my living in the Midlands. Studying American history has made me realize how complicated it is to understand the origins and formation of regional cultures. This middle zone and cultural borderland of American society makes this clear.

Like most colonial ruling elites, Quakers were a small minority, often quite different from the general population, atypical both in England and in America. This unique starting point was magnified (and/or maybe distorted) because of the unique mass immigration of ethnic, religious, linguistic and socio-political diversity. This was intentionally promoted by the Quakers because of the tolerance inherent to their theology, a tolerance that was active rather than passive. In spite of this (or I’d argue because of this), Quakers were able to leave a permanent imprint on the politics and culture of the American Midlands, the area extending from Pennsylvania across the Lower Midwest.

Some keep the focus there on those who became the ruling elite and who supposedly had the founding effect. In seeing the Quakers as the origins of Midlands culture, they look to the origins of the Quakers themselves. The Quakers mostly came from Northern England, including much of the English Midlands, especially the North Midlands, and to a lesser extent Northeast Wales that borders the Midlands. With this focus, they look to the history of Wales, Mercia, Northumbria, Cumbria, Danelaw, etc. All of this is interesting and immensely complex. The historical and regional patterns of data, especially when mapped, seem to offer much potential insight.

However, there is a further complication within this larger complexity: self-sorting. Only a small percentage of people in this region became Quakers. Only a small percentage of these Quakers emigrated to the British colonies. And an even smaller percentage settled in Pennsylvania and became the ruling elite. This is a very select group of people who were swamped by the surrounding multicultural society of the Middle Colonies.

The devil is in the details and it can be hard to make sense of the details, especially when so many of the details are lost to the mists of history. There were no Quakers and then there were. Their emergence and the form it took couldn’t be exactly predicted. We can see the results of the self-sorting, just not the motivation behind it.

Let me really get down to the particulars. The level of individuals can get lost in the focus on the group. The trees sometimes can’t be seen for the forest.

Among the Quaker ruling elite, there were only a select few that had major impact on the entire Quaker community and specifically within Midlands culture. This has made me appreciate the value of sometimes taking very seriously the great man theory of history.

George Fox apparently is a more typical Quaker from the English Midlands who preached in and made many converts in North Midlands, and so he is maybe more representative of the larger pattern(s) behind the Quaker movement. William Penn, on the other hand, was a bit of a wild card in Quakerism and I suppose in English society as well. Without understanding Penn, there is no way of fully understanding how English Quakers helped create the American Midlands (the American Midlands is a far cry from the English Midlands, although both became the center of industrialization for both countries).

If William Penn helped shape American Quakerism and the American Midlands, what shaped his experience and identity?

William Penn was from Southern England. His father descended from Welsh and his mother was Dutch. As a youth, he spent many years in Ireland where he first learned of Quakerism. Also, as a young adult, he studied with a French Huguenot theologian at a French academy and was strongly influenced by French culture. Later on, he spent many years as a missionary in Germany.

So, by the time he founded Pennsylvania, he was quite modern in his cosmopolitanism. In fact, he was already cosmopolitan even before converting to Quakerism. It seems he brought cosmopolitanism to his Quaker faith and conformed his Quakerism to his already established identify as a cosmopolitan. It should be unsurprising that he attempted to create a cosmopolitan pluralist utopia, rather than a mere ethnocentric English colony or an exclusionary Quaker haven. He transformed Quaker pacifism and religious tolerance into something even greater still. He took a regional religion that emerged from a semi-clannish culture and put a universalist spin on it.

This maybe had less to do with Quakerism by itself and a lot more to do with William Penn. Yes, Pennsylvania Quakers had a major impact on the American Midlands. But before that could happen, William Penn had a major impact on Pennsylvania Quakers. He created a Quaker community unlike anything found back in England, unlike anything before seen in the world: a civil society striving to self-govern according to the golden rule. Considering the centrality of the golden rule to Jesus’ teachings, it is odd that no organized Christian leadership ever before (or maybe since) seriously attempted to use the golden rule as the guiding policy of political governance. We are so used to religious hypocrisy that principled religiosity seems almost alien.

I’ve been wondering if this could be part of the French Huguenot influence.

The Quakers had inherited proto-democratic self-governance from Northern English culture. But proto-democratic tendencies were also found among the French Huguenots. Many people had been influenced by the French Huguenots, especially by the Camisards. Their demand for religious freedom was heard by people all across the Western world and their persecution became symbolic of the persecution many other groups experienced.

Because of this persecution, there was a major Huguenot diaspora. Some went to nearby Germany and Netherlands. Many others went to the British Isles, one of the relatively largest immigrations to occur there involving a single ethnic group. Outside of London, a concentration of Huguenots was centered in Northern Ireland such as in Dublin and Ulster.

Also, a large number of Huguenots settled in America. They first came to Florida long before the founding of any of the British colonies. There they had the first Protestant Thanksgiving in America (see here and here). But they were massacred by the Spanish and the survivors returned to France where the violent persecution continued there. They had a hard time escaping the Catholics no matter where they went.

The Dutch and the English, as Protestants, were much more welcoming. So, many settled in the colonies, some in New York and Virginia. There was an entire French Huguenot settlement in Pennsylvania, but they eventually assimilated mostly with the Germans in Germantown. Most Huguenots assimilated wherever they settled which is what made them so representative of what was becoming of American culture. This also is what allowed them to be so influential. One of the few places their culture survived was in the Carolinas, specifically Charleston where is located the only continuously operating Huguenot church. But even there it was never dominant.

It was through this diaspora that many of the colonial elite became familiar with Huguenot theology and practice.

Many Puritans, similar to William Penn, were in contact with and inspired by Huguenots or else were otherwise influenced (for example, Cotton Mather). The German Pietists claimed to have been inspired by Camisards, and German Pietists were a large part of the Pennsylvania immigrant population (the German Pietists in their turn having great influence on colonial leaders, preachers and intellectuals). This Huguenot impact was widespread (From a Far Country: Camisards and Huguenots in the Atlantic World, Catharine Randall, Kindle Locations 104-116):

The story of French Protestantism is both Continental and American in that the Camisards and Huguenots created connections and cross-pollinations among the varieties of religious expressions they encountered or fostered, both in America and abroad. The Philadelphia movement in London responded directly to Camisard apocalypticism; the Shakers acknowledged the Camisards as their progenitors in faith; George Whitefield, John Wesley, and the Moravian Pietists all had contact with them and were moved by their plight, persuaded by their ecstasy, and awakened by their prophecies. Again, the story stretches across the Atlantic. Like the Camisards in France, the Quakers both in England and in the New World placed primary importance on the working of the Holy Spirit, spoke of imminent apocalypticism, as did the Camisard inspires and the French Prophets, and appealed to the lower and working classes, consistent with the Camisards’ origins in a poor, disenfranchised peasantry. In England, the Shakers of Manchester derived “inspiration and nurture from the French Prophets,” and once in America, they acknowledged direct descent from the Camisards on the very first page of Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message, their institutional autobiography.16 Both groups had female preachers who experienced “Ecstatick Fits.” Again, similar to the analphabetic Camisards, the Shakers, in the first “Opening of the Shaker Gospel” (May 19, 1789), professed distrust for the written word and stated a preference for oral testimony and “witnessing.” [ . . . ]

Further, the story stretches a narrative thread from France, Switzerland, England, Germany, and the Low Countries over to the American colonies by virtue of the common theme of freedom of conscience. Camisard beliefs included “the light of conscience;’ the action of the Holy Spirit within, and freedom of conscience in regard to matters without; in important and admirable ways, these convictions conformed to Enlightenment notions of freedom of conscience, despite the rather paradoxical vehicle for it that the Camisards, often unlettered, glossolalic peasants, presented.

In the face of dire persecution, torture, and royal antipathy, this small subculture asserted its right both to be loyal citizens and to dissent religiously. All of Europe-and the colonies-heard their message loud and clear.

With our Anglocentric lense, we forget how interconnected the Western world was during the colonial era, the beginning of modern globalization. William Penn wasn’t all that unusual, at least among the upper classes, in how much he traveled.

Take the example of the Puritans who were a major force of religious dissent that preceded the Quakers. The Puritans were Marian Exiles who had escaped to Europe where they picked up Calvinist influences and then later brought them back to England. The German Moravians, coming out of the Pietist tradition, as international evangelical missionaries helped incite some of the Puritan controversy.

The Moravians also later had great impact in the colonies. John Wesley was a fellow traveler of the Moravians, literally a fellow traveler in first meeting them as passengers on the same ship to the colonies. Many Moravians settled among the Quakers in Pennsylvania, just like many other German religious groups such as Pietists, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites and Amish. Many of the followers of these religions were pacifists who practiced civil disobedience, refusing to join the military and refusing to take oaths. This is why they tended to settle among the Quakers in the Midlands where there was more tolerance. The Mennonites were the closest to Quakers and the first to settle in Pennsylvania:

Persecution and the search for employment forced Mennonites out of the Netherlands eastward to Germany in the 17th century. As Quaker Evangelists moved into Germany they received a sympathetic audience among the larger of these Dutch-Mennonite congregations around Krefeld, Altona-Hamburg, Gronau and Emden.[18] It was among this group of Quakers and Mennonites, living under ongoing discrimination, that William Penn solicited settlers for his new colony. The first permanent settlement of Mennonites in the American colonies consisted of one Mennonite family and twelve Mennonite-Quaker[19] families of Dutch extraction who arrived from Krefeld, Germany, in 1683 and settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Among these early settlers wasWilliam Rittenhouse, a lay minister and owner of the first American paper millJacob Gottschalk was the first bishop of this Germantown congregation. This early group of Mennonites and Mennonite-Quakers wrote the first formal protest against slavery in the United States. The treatise was addressed to slave-holding Quakers in an effort to persuade them to change their ways.[20]

In the early 18th century, 100,000 Germans from the Palatinate emigrated to Pennsylvania, where they became known collectively as the Pennsylvania Dutch (from the Anglicization of Deutsch or German.) The area had been repeatedly overrun by the French in religious wars, and Queen Anne had invited the Germans to go to the British colonies. Of these immigrants, around 2,500 were Mennonites and 500 were Amish.[21] This group settled farther west than the first group, choosing less expensive land in the Lancaster area. The oldest Mennonite meetinghouse in the United States is the Hans Herr House in West Lampeter Township.[22] A member of this second group, Christopher Dock, authored Pedagogy, the first American monograph on education. Today, Mennonites also reside in Kishacoquillas Valley (also known as Big Valley), a valley in Huntingdonand Mifflin counties in Pennsylvania.

During the Colonial period, Mennonites were distinguished from other Pennsylvania Germans in three ways:[23] their opposition to the American Revolutionary War, which other Germans participated in on the side of the rebels; resistance to public education; and disapproval of religious revivalism. Contributions of Mennonites during this period include the idea of separation of church and state, and opposition to slavery.

From 1812 to 1860, another wave of Mennonite immigrants settled farther west in OhioIndianaIllinois and Missouri. These Swiss-German speaking Mennonites, along with Amish, came from Switzerland and the Alsace-Lorraine area. These immigrants, along with the Amish of northern New York State, formed the nucleus of the Apostolic Christian Church in the United States.

The Quakers, like the Puritans, were influenced by Calvinists. But the Quakers were just as influenced by Anabaptists. These are two very different traditions which demonstrates the theological diversity behind Quakerism.

Quakers were also influenced by religious dissenters such as the German Familists: “They held that no man should be put to death for his opinions, and apparently, like the later Quakers, they objected to the carrying of arms and to anything like an oath [ . . . ]. The Quakers, Baptists and Unitarians may have derived some of their ideas from the “Family.””

The Quakers were even more influenced by the English Seekers: “Arguably, they are best thought of as forerunners of the Quakers, with whom many of them subsequently merged.” The Seekers in turn were influenced by the likes of Roger Williams back in the colonies and Roger Williams had his worldview entirely transformed by his regularly living among and learning from Native Americans, of which he wrote about in texts that were popular back in Britain.

We easily forget how mind-blowing was this early European contact with Native Americans. To the average colonial-era Westerner, native North America was an entirely foreign world with a disconcertingly strange worldview.

Many intellectuals and political elites argued that liberty inevitably leads to anarchy. The localized and oftentimes rather democratic-like self-governance of many Native American tribes put the lie to this claim. Radical thinkers like Thomas Morton, Roger Williams and William Penn sometimes went so far as to declare the Native Americans as more civilized than their fellow colonists. Also, these radical thinkers all had popular writings read in Britain where they themselves traveled back to, and when in England they all had close ties to and discourse with many of the influential Englishmen of their day.

(See: Errands into the Metropolis: New England Dissidents in Revolutionary London by Jonathan Beecher Field, The Networked Wilderness: Communicating in Early New England by Matt Cohen, and Atlantic Cousins: Benjamin Franklin and His Visionary Friends by Jack Fruchtman jr.)

The New World became a screen onto which new social visions could be collectively imagined and a place where new social experiments could be tried. The contact with Native Americans and their societies, in challenging Western assumptions, helped shape English religious dissent and the English Revolution. The same radicals questioning religious establishment and slavery were also criticizing the cruel, unfair and dishonest treatment of Native Americans. They were able to see the commonality between the oppression of one group of people and the oppression of all people.

This international and cross-continental web of influence continued for the entire history of the colonies and into the revolutionary era. The early and late colonial eras weren’t that far apart. When William Penn died, Benjamin Franklin was around 12 years old living a little north of Pennsylvania where he would later consider his home. It was at age 12 when Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to a printer, the profession that would define his entire life.

Some of the founding fathers looked to the Basque republicanism for inspiration in seeking American independence:

Referring to the historical ties that existed between the Basque Country and the United States, some authors stress the admiration felt by John Adams, second president of the US, for the Basques’ historical form of government. Adams, who on his tour of Europe visited Biscay, was impressed. He cited the Basques as an example in A defense of the Constitution of the United States, as he wrote in 1786:

“In a research like this, after those people in Europe who have had the skill, courage, and fortune, to preserve a voice in the government, Biscay, in Spain, ought by no means to be omitted. While their neighbours have long since resigned all their pretensions into the hands of kings and priests, this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government, and manners, without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe. Of Celtic extraction, they once inhabited some of the finest parts of the ancient Boetica; but their love of liberty, and unconquerable aversion to a foreign servitude, made them retire, when invaded and overpowered in their ancient feats, into these mountainous countries, called by the ancients Cantabria…”

“…It is a republic; and one of the privileges they have most insisted on, is not to have a king: another was, that every new lord, at his accession, should come into the country in person, with one of his legs bare, and take an oath to preserve the privileges of the lordship”.[1]

Authors such as Navascues, and the Basque-American Pete T. Cenarrusa, former Secretary of the State of Idaho, agree in stressing the influence of the Forua of Biscay on some parts of the US Constitution. John Adams traveled in 1779 to Europe to study and compare the various forms of government then found on the Old Continent. The American Constitution was approved by the first thirteen states on 17 September 1787.

The Basque are a people whose homeland straddles the borderland of Spain and France, the two countries that were the enemies of England during the revolutionary era. It is interesting that English-descended colonial leaders would look outside of England for a worthy example of a free people that had successfully resisted outside oppression and domination.

Ironically, many of the hispanics of the former Northern Mexico and present Southwest were and are Basque-descended. The Basque fought for their independence in Spain and then later at the frontier of the Spanish Empire (yet another borderland), but they were finally conquered by the Americans who they earlier had inspired toward independence. The sad part of it was that these Basque-descended hispanics even fought at the Alamo and then after Anglo-Americans took over they lost much of their property and political influence. For them, it turned out not to be a revolution that gained independence.

Anyway, the point being that the founding fathers weren’t ethnocentric and xenophobic provincials.

Many of the founders traveled to foreign countries throughout their lives and regularly interacted with diverse people. America wasn’t just England transplanted to the North American continent. The first Bible published in America was written in a Native American language (Algonquian). Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia, published the first German language newspaper in America, but it only lasted a year because four other German language newspapers quickly came into competition with it.

This colonial multiculturalism was most strongly centered in the Middle Colonies. In the Middle Colonies, it was most strongly centered in Pennsylvania. And in Pennsylvania, it was most strongly centered in Philadelphia.

This is also where progressive radicalism was strongly centered. Germantown was located in Philadelphia. It was in Germantown near which John Dickinson had a home and where Anthony Benezet taught at a school. It was four of the early German Quakers who put forth the first public declaration against slavery. In Philadelphia, Anthony Benezet founded the first anti-slavery society in America (Thomas Paine was a founding member); also, he founded the first public school for girls and a school for blacks.

Anthony Benezet is a good example of the type of complication that gets overlooked or purposely omitted. His life doesn’t fit into the Anglo-American narrative. Sadly but predictably, I read some conservative Christian websites that mention this anti-slavery society as being founded by Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush when all they did was later reestablish it and, of course, there was no mention of the Frenchman who originally founded it.

Benezet was born in a French Huguenot family. His family left France because of persecution and he ended up as a young man living in England. He joined the Quakers and came to Philadelphia. Benezet was a major player among the founding fathers. If not for people like him advocating for the ending of slavery, the abolition movement wouldn’t have taken such a strong hold with Quakers and in Pennsylvania. It was because of this constant pressure that was behind Benjamin Franklin and John Dickinson freeing their slaves, the only founding fathers to do so.

I just recently discovered this entire French Huguenot angle. It was maybe a year or two ago when I first noticed Catharine Randall’s From a Far Country, and I only now got around to getting a copy of it and have started reading it.

It isn’t the type of thing you learn about in school. You’d be hard-pressed to find many popular historical books that give much space for discussion of these people and their influence on American society, that is if they are mentioned at all. It usually is treated as an incidental detail or side issue at best. It took me a whole lot of studying about Quakers and the Midlands to even begin to grasp why the Huguenots were so important.

Many Huguenots and their descendants played significant roles in American society. Anthony Benezet is just one example. From a Far Country discusses all of this in greater detail, specifically focused on three individuals — from the blurb:

Gabriel Bernon, who led a Huguenot exodus to Massachusetts and moved among the commercial elite; Ezechiel Carre, a Camisard who influenced Cotton Mather’s theology; and Elie Neau, a Camisard-influenced writer and escaped galley slave who established North America’s first school for blacks.

There are quite a few famous Americans with Huguenot ancestry, including among frontiersmen. Because of the Ulster Scots connection, some Scots-Irish Americans are their descendants:

The term is somewhat unclear because some of the Scotch-Irish have little or no Scottish ancestry at all, as a large number of dissenter families had also been transplanted to Ulster from northern England. Smaller numbers of migrants also came from Wales and the southeast of England, and others still from Flanders, the German Palatinate, and France (such as the French Huguenot ancestors of Davy Crockett).

The example of Davy Crockett is interesting as he is so symbolic of America and yet his very surname is French in origin:

Crockett was of IrishEnglishScottish, and FrenchHuguenot ancestry,[4] the family name being derived from Monsieur de la Croquetagne, a captain in the Royal Guard of French King Louis XIV.[5] The family converted to Protestantism and, as Huguenots, fled persecution in 17th-century France to settle in Ireland. His great-grandparents Joseph Louis Crockett and Sarah Stewart Crockett immigrated to New York from Ireland c1708. Their son David and his wife, killed by Native Americans in North Carolina, had three sons named James, Joseph and John.[6]

Here are some other examples:

Paul Revere was descended from Huguenot refugees, as was Henry Laurens, who signed the Articles of Confederation for South Carolina; Jack Jouett, who made the ride from Cuckoo Tavern to warn Thomas Jefferson and others that Tarleton and his men were on their way to arrest him for crimes against the king; Francis Marion, and a number of other leaders of the American Revolution and later statesmen.

John Jay is yet another early American of Huguenot ancestry. In fact, he is one of the founding fathers.

The part of the Huguenots history that interest me the most, of course, is where it merges with Quaker history. As I’ve argued before, the Quaker-originated Midlands has come to define America. The reason it defines America is because it embodies so many different influences, Huguenots being one among many.

It isn’t just a matter of the Quakers founding effect as a starting point. There were multiple starting points, strands that began separately but which were braided together. Unlike other colonial ruling elites, the Quakers realized they needed many allies to help them with their many enemies and competitors. But it was more than that.

William Penn and the Quakers couldn’t have known what they were creating. I doubt Penn realized what all of the influences in his life were adding up to. He probably wasn’t trying to make the Quaker religion into some greater regional culture and social vision. He simply acted according to the understanding that his life experiences provided. Quakerism could have become many things, but with Penn it led to something beyond religion and ethnicity.

The particulars of life can seem as mere accidents. Their significance may not be seen even by those involved. It is only history that offers the context that can appear as a linear narrative with an inevitable conclusion. We get caught up in the world that has become that we can’t see the past for what it was for those who lived it. People live with particular experiences, not in generalities.

It would be unwise to dismiss the particulars of the present for the romanticized generalizations of what never was. We forget the complexity of the past at our own peril. Maybe we should take more seriously the radical visions of the best men among the colonial leaders and the founding fathers. In many ways, they faced greater problems, conflicts and uncertainties than we are confronted with now. I suspect we could learn something about the particulars of world today by looking back at the particulars of how America came to be.

Other books of interest:

Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America
by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
by Colin Woodard

American Colonies: The Settling of North America
by Alan Taylor

The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction
by Bernard Bailyn

The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675
by Bernard Bailyn

Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution
by Bernard Bailyn

The Cousin’s Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph of Anglo-America
by Kevin Phillips

The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America
by Chris Beneke  and Christopher S. Grenda

The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State
by Nicholas P. Miller

Crossroads of Empire: The Middle Colonies in British North America
by Ned C. Landsman

At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763
by Jane T. Merritt

A Harmony of the Spirits: Translation and the Language of Community in Early Pennsylvania
by Patrick Erben

Walking in the Way of Peace: Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century
by Meredith Baldwin Weddle

Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley
by Barry Levy

Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn’s Holy Experiment
by Kevin Kenny

Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson
by Jane E. Calvert

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty
by John M. Barry

William Carlos Williams on America

Here is a quote from In the American Grain by Williams Carlos Williams. He became famous for his poetry, but this creative non-fiction work has stood the test of time. When it was first published (1925), however, it didn’t get much of a reception.

It is now about 10 years shy of a century when it was published, although many of the writings it contained probably were written well before that. In 1925, it was a very different world. It was during a time when the top tax rates had been drastically dropped and before they’d be raised again in the following decades, before the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, before World War II Era social programs and Progressivism, before television and Hollywood became the major forces they are today, before the largescale commercialization and commodification of the 1950s, before the social turmoil and Vietnam War troubles of the 1960s, before the dark times of the 1970s and the materialistic cynicism of the 1980s, before the Cold War had begun and way before global Islamic Terrorism. It was a time when America was still coming into its own and few yet envisioned the country as a global superpower that could challenge the great empires. Heck, the shift from a rural to an urban society was still in process. It was the Roaring Twenties.

Conservatives look to the past for when America was great. I get the sense that Williams had a different opinion. Speaking about America, he described it this way (Kindle Locations 1149-1152):

It has become “the most lawless country in the civilized world,” a panorama of murders, perversions, a terrific ungoverned strength, excusable only because of the horrid beauty of its great machines. To-day it is a generation of gross know-nothingism, of blackened churches where hymns groan like chants from stupefied jungles, a generation universally eager to barter permanent values (the hope of an aristocracy) in return for opportunist material advantages, a generation hating those whom it obeys.

Has America changed much since then? It is hard to feel convinced that we’ve become a better people. I think Williams may have captured (at least an aspect of) the Soul of America.

The Living Apocalypse, A Lived Reality Tunnel

I was recently wondering about the root and rot of the tree of liberty. America is a crazy experiment and these are crazy times. I’m not sure if to embrace the crazy or resist it. Ironically, the new immigrants hated and/or feared by the nativists are about the only Americans left who (naively?) believe in the American Dream.

Matt Cardin over at Teeming Brain just posted a bunch of links that are as interesting as usual. There is the apocalypse thingy:

Adieu: On the downward slope of empire
William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar

This will not be pretty. I mean our national decline, and yes, it’s going to happen, sooner or later, one way or another. We can stave it off for a while, especially if we manage to get our heads screwed on a little straighter about a number of things—like immigration, which has always been the source of our renewal, or clean technologies, which might provide another burst of economic growth. China could stumble, as it seems to be doing right now, and in any case there’s still a lot of kick left in the old mare. But empires fall as surely as they rise, and mostly for the reasons that we’re seeing now: they overextend themselves; their systems grow sclerotic; their elites become complacent and corrupt. There’s almost something metaphysical at work. The national sap dries up; the historical clock runs out.

In America’s case, the end is likely to involve a lot more bang than whimper. 

The Comforts of the Apocalypse
Rob Goodman, The Chronicle of Higher Education

We’re living through a dystopia boom; secular apocalypses have, in the words of The New York Times, “pretty much owned” best-seller lists and taken on a dominant role in pop culture. These are fictions of infinite extrapolation, stories in which today’s source of anxiety becomes tomorrow’s source of collapse.

. . . All of this literature is the product of what the philosopher John Gray has described as “a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility.” Call it dystopian narcissism: the conviction that our anxieties are uniquely awful; that the crises of our age will be the ones that finally do civilization in; that we are privileged to witness the beginning of the end.

Of course, today’s dystopian writers didn’t invent the ills they decry: Our wounds are real. But there is also a neurotic way of picking at a wound, of catastrophizing, of visualizing the day the wounded limb turns gangrenous and falls off. It’s this hunger for crisis, the need to assign our problems world-transforming import, that separates dystopian narcissism from constructive polemic.

I’ve been too depressed for too long to get overly excited by the ravings of the apocalyptic crowd. I’m also too well informed to almost ever feel surprised. When the 9/11 attack happened, after drowsily and surreally waking up to the radio report, my first coherent thought on the matter was how sadly inevitable was such an incident. For anyone who knows the history of US government meddling, blowback was unavoidable and was going to have real consequences one way or another (see: All of Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer).

Many of the horrible apocalyptic scenarios have a plausibility about them, maybe even a fair probability, if not entirely unavoidable. Why the continuous surprise about horrific events? And why the paranoid obsessiveness that tries to make them into something more they are? How is global warming a shock considering how much pollution we’ve dumped into the soil, water and atmosphere? It is so boringly predictable.

As for America the empire, we are simply playing out the story many other empires have played out before, although with some new twists. Move along, folks, there is nothing to see here.

I’m not being cynical or I’m not trying to be. It just that somethings begin to seem excruciatingly obvious after awhile.

It is easy for humans to get trapped in reality tunnels, media bubbles and echo chambers. That is how the obvious becomes less-than-obvious in our thoughts and perceptions. We come to take things for granted and don’t even realize there is something to be questioned and doubted. We seek to maintain our sense of reality, the status quo social order, the known and familiar… simply for the sake of it for what else would we do?

It is all about keeping ourselves occupied and distracted, keeping up with the Joneses, keeping on keeping on. And the potential forced ending of all that can indeed feel apocalyptic. Everything comes to an end eventually, whether the ending be death and collapse or an awakening.  Although this game can’t go on forever, we will try to keep it going for as long as we can. I guess that is just human nature.

This brings me two other links Cardin offered and I’ll present some of the text as well:

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs
Strike! Magazine

Rather than [technology] allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones. . . . These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs.’

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. . . . Through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand. . . . If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job.

In Praise of Laziness
The Economist

Yet the biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much—too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form, and altogether too much busy-ness. The Dutch seem to believe that an excess of meetings is the biggest devourer of time: they talk of vergaderziekte, “meeting sickness”. However, a study last year by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that it is e-mails: it found that highly skilled office workers spend more than a quarter of each working day writing and responding to them.

Which of these banes of modern business life is worse remains open to debate. But what is clear is that office workers are on a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag on for hours. Workers generate e-mails because it requires little effort and no thought. An entire management industry exists to spin the treadmill ever faster.

All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the United States. Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

This activity is making it harder to focus on real work as opposed to make-work.

I pondered this in a more personal way some years ago – The Elephant that Wasn’t There:

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

Ultimately, the apocalyptic vision isn’t necessarily about the losing of the known at all. The more fundamental fear is the facing of the unknown… which will transform the known, give it new context and meaning. What is fearful about this process is that the unknown once known can’t be made unknown again, can’t ever again be easily forgotten or entirely denied.

The world is an ever-changing place. Apocalypse and transformation are two sides of the same chrysalis. We worry about the destruction of what we know, but that is just a perception. Take the perspective of someone in the past and the present we seek to save can be seen as the destruction of the past world that others sought to defend. Take the perspective of someone in the future and maybe we in this period are seen as standing in the way of a better world, mere children clinging to our blankeys. We are pretty fucking clueless is all I can say. Some of us are more analytical and all that, but it is mostly just a front, a rationalization we present as a lucky charm to protect us against evil.

We all have our favorite story. I’d go so far as to say we all live out a story, usually without full consciousness, assuming consciousness is involved whatsoever in most cases. I read a good articulation of this in a story by Quentin S. Crisp (“The Mermaid”, Morbid Tales):

I believe that everybody has a story. It falls to their life’s epicentre like a meteorite. Even before the story has actually happened the person knows somewhere, with an infallible sense of precognition, what that story is. They predict it again and again in all sorts of ways. They are bound to it by irresistible forces of gravity and magnetism. That is why, knowing they are inevitably taken up with their own story, they feel they are missing something and look to the lives of others with envy. But even those who are envied are enslaved in private by their own particular stories. The hardest part of it all is that stories take place over time. Nothing is revealed all at once. One scene follows closely upon another leaving no gaps, fitting tightly together, slowly and carefully picking out details so that all sense of fulfilment is perpetually in abeyance. And in each new scene we are no longer the same person who wanted the things that scene brings. It is the story of how we age. But if our stories tie us down, make us particular, limit us, they also offer us consolation. In my case, I have tried to escape the sequence of my own story and its temporal limitations by writing more stories, expressing things that I hoped would attain permanence beyond my life. I have learnt, however, that the story in my own life is far more important than any story I might present to the world. Now that it has happened I feel real. Why should I need to write stories when I am a story?

Unlike the storyteller, few of us ever become so self-aware. Stories are most engrossing when we don’t even realize they are stories and that it is we who are telling it. The story becomes real by being mistaken for reality and in doing so our reality is altered. Stories become self-fulfilling prophecies and self-reinforcing reality tunnels. That is certainly the power of religion, but it is the power of everything, including science.

We sometimes forget how young we are as a species and how younger still is science. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the reality around us and within us. Even within science, people have their favored theory and of course other people’s favored theory is bullshit.

I came across this type of thing just the other day with a blogger who goes by the pseudonym of JayMan. He is an human biodiversity (HBD) proponent. HBD is a theory that is so far outside of mainstream science as to have little scientific research backing it up at present. There is some data offering clues, but the scope and quality of research is severely lacking at present. HBD proponents would claim this is because most scientists are being politically correct. Maybe so and maybe not.

What interested me about the incident was the response he gave when I brought up another alternative theory involving non-Darwinian evolution. He called it bullshit. It was one thing to discuss his favored alternative theory and a whole other matter with someone else’s favored alternative theory. It wasn’t even my favored alternative theory. I was merely pointing out that there was research-based theories that were being discussed by scientists, but JayMan would have none of it. He is a smart guy, but it just didn’t fit into his reality tunnel. It wasn’t political correctness to ignore what he disagreed with. That was simply plain reality. Reality is reality. Deal with it! *sigh*

I’m one who will defend facts when I think they are true, but I must admit that I’m not a big defender of specific theories. I pretty much will fairly look at any perspective. If I was worried about political correctness, I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole either HBD or non-Darwinian evolution. It was JayMan who was obsessed with political correctness and judging theories accordingly. That is the power of reality tunnels. I have my own reality tunnel as well, but it happens to be a bit more porous and malleable (which can also be problematic in other ways).

I bring this HBD example up for two reasons. The first reason is that Cardin linked to another article about scientific reductionism which is definitely what JayMan and many other HBD proponents leans toward (I wouldn’t make this charge against hbd chick, though, for she is more careful in her analysis; she has the intellectual humility to admit that she isn’t doing science in her blog and that her favored theory could be wrong). The second reason goes back to the post I first linked above (The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty).

That post was largely a response to hbd chick. Like JayMan, she is definitely attracted to scientific reductionism. She has said many times that culture comes from biology for to all of human reality is biological and most of biology is genetics. I think hbd chick has a brilliant mind and she is definitely an awesome researcher, but to my mind her theory smacks too much of scientism. It’s not just an obsession with science but specifically the hard sciences.

I’m biased, of course, coming more from a social science perspective. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t know how easily scientists can get sloppy, even to the point of shaping the results they get and the conclusions they come to. If not for the social sciences, we wouldn’t have developed better scientific methodology such as double blinds. I have less trust in a hard science perspective that isn’t heavily grounded in the social sciences, and my trust is even less when we are talking about human nature which is the focus of HBD proponents. My speaking of reality tunnels is essentially grounded in my study of the social sciences.

HBD proponents tend to have a very narrow focus. JayMan told me once that we should just focus on the facts and not their implications. This seems naive to me. There is no such thing as just the facts. Everything is built on ideas, assumptions, beliefs, biases, perceptions, interpretations, etc. It is because HBD proponents (and other similar types) are so narrowly focused that they so easily fall into certain kinds of apocalyptic thinking. We live in a world of dangers and possibilities, but what they worry about is that the immigrants are going to destroy America. This seems strange to me. The immigrants are America. There would be no America without centuries of mass immigration. If they aren’t trying to protect this America that has existed for centuries, then what mythical America are they hoping to save?

I guess that is the problem with all apocalyptic thinking. It is in the end grounded in fantasy. There are real fears it feeds upon, but those real fears are often incidental or secondary. We obsess about apocalypse because we’d rather ignore the even worse problems that surround us. Instead of apocalypse and paranoia, others turn to watching lots of tv, getting lost in social media, drinking and drugging, obsessive dieting and exercising, and other options are available as well. This is also why we project problems onto others and make them into scapegoats for then we don’t have to focus on our own issues and our own personal contributions to societal challenges. Whatever is the case, the type of distraction isn’t important.

The problem that finally gets us will probably be the problem we don’t see coming. The problems we’re worried about are the ones that usually are the least dangerous. That is the point. We focus on fake threats and paranoid fantasies because they are an escape from boring reality. They are safe and easy. That way we can avoid the deep soul-searching and hard work to make the world a better place or simply not make it worse.

The above felt like a good ending point, but hardly inspiring. You can stop there if you so desire or follow me a bit further into my personal motivations and wonderings.

The reason I care about society or even HBD is because I have insatiable curiosity. Humanity fascinates me, humanity and all that it entails. People like Matt Cardin and hbd chick seem to share this sense of curiosity which is more important to my mind than our agreeing about everything.

I had a discussion with hbd chick about culture. I tend to see culture more of as a mystery whereas she tends to see it as a set of data points. It is pretty much a difference of whether the whole is merely the sum of its parts or greater than the sum of its parts, or so it seems to me but maybe hbd chick would state it differently.

Then again, I do have strong tendencies toward being a pansy liberal with weird spiritual experiences and notions about reality. The HBD crowd aren’t known for their pansy liberals. I try to communicate with them through the lense of the libertarian side of my personality. From my crazy liberal-minded perspective, I find it hard to conform to any single theory. I’m a thin-boundaried possibility thinker and proud of it, dammit! I don’t mind too much those who lean toward scientific reductionism. We all have our role to play. That tolerance and love of diversity is part of my crazy liberal-mindedness.

I find myself always restraining my personal idiosyncracies and illnesses. I do have severe depression and probably a few other mental conditions, maybe borderline something thrown in there or else maybe some aspergers. Whatever is my personal ailment, my brainstuff obviously doesn’t work normally. This is why the strangeness of the world, 9/11 attacks included, don’t surprise me. It seems normal to me that the world is a crazy place. Do I love America so much because it is such a crazy experiment or do I love thinking of America as a crazy experiment because I’m crazy? That is definitely something to ponder.

JayMan is a typical hardcore scientific-minded atheist. It is either hard science or bullshit. There are no other options and no middle ground. The science vs religious issue confuses me. I eternally exist in the middle, the intermediate, the interstitial, the liminal or whatever it is. I’m a both/and kinda guy.

In a society obsessed with science as ours is, what takes the place of religion is secular apocalypse, paranoia, conspiracy theory, alien abductions, and on and on. It’s all fun. I don’t disparage it in and of itself. I love the Fortean. The trick, though, is to see it for what it is. I want to get to the root of fears and fantasies. That is where the tasty morsels are to be found.

We aren’t just sets of data. We are living humanity. We don’t just get trapped in reality tunnels. I might go so far as to say we are reality tunnels. We embody stories and gods. The apocalypse plays out in our souls before it ever manifests in the world.

As such, a culture is an emergent property. It can’t be predicted by that which precedes it or explained by which it consists of. In our discussion, I compared culture to consciousness, both being beyond present scientific knowledge. We can look at snapshots and the mechanisms for the physical correlates, but we are almost completely ignorant about the thing itself. We can’t objectively study culture and consciousness because we are the thing we seek to analyze.

To counter this, hbd chick stated that culture is a lot less complex and mysterious than consciousness for we can point to specific data of cultures. She used the term ‘flavor’ and I thought that a good way of putting it. So, I extended her thought. Maybe the flavor of a culture (violent, universalist, or whatever) is to a culture as personality is to consciousness. I pointed out how we are able to and have measured personality traits of both individuals and groups, including at the level of regions. Personality traits is the flavor of humanity that is the meeting point of consciousness and culture, the individual and the collective.

Cultures, like religions, are reality tunnels. But that sounds dismissive. Reality tunnels are the only reality we have and so I don’t mean to disregard them as mere negative traps to be escaped, as if we are the prisoners of a gnostic demiurge. It is simpler and more complex than that. It is simply the only reality we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.

Religions, like cultures, are lived realities. We can’t truly know them from the outside. The scientific data about cultures is to cultures as the rituals of a religion are to the mystic’s vision of the divine. A living god is a thing to behold and so is a living culture, no matter what your belief is about such things.

The same goes for an apocalypse. They are real to those know them in their own reality. They are so real that we can sometimes even make them physically real if we try hard enough. So, in our collective obsessions with apocalypse or more mundanely with work, what kind of world are we creating? More importantly, what kind of world do we want to create? If we weren’t limited by our fears and doubts, what would we collectively strive to achieve and become?

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty

As the Heartland, what is in the heart of America? What was planted here? What has grown? What has come to fruition?

The Midwest is Middle America. Without a middle, there is no whole. The periphery, America’s coasts and borders, receives all the attention like the sweet juicy flesh surrounding the seed, but it is the seed that is the purpose of the fruit. Out of the seed grows what was in the seed to grow. The seed grows upward where the fruit is to be had, but the roots surrounding what was the seed holds it all in place. The center, like the roots, must hold for if it doesn’t nothing will remain to be held; a weakly rooted tree will topple. The center is what is at the core, the middle that defines the whole, the circumference measured outward from that point of reference, that point of stability.

In America, the middle has always been the Midlands and the former Middle Colonies, the Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest that extends into the interior. It is the cultural middling point where cultures meet, clash, merge, and even out. It is the linguistic middle of Standard American English. It is the median and mean center of the United States population.

Right now, the Emerald Ash Borer is slowly making its way across the Midwest. A couple of years ago it finally made it to Iowa and all the Ash trees I see in this Iowa town may soon be gone. The Norse World Tree Yggdrasil is considered to have been an Ash tree, out of which the first man was formed and the sugary sap from which was made the Mead of Inspiration. The Ash tree has long been rooted in Western society. It is a hardwood tree and so has been highly prized, including for use in shipbuilding. Consider how many immigrants came to America afloat upon ships built out of Ash wood. Yet now we are watching possibly a mass extinction of Ash trees, not just a single variety of Ash trees but all Ash trees.

How does the Emerald Ash Borer kill a tree? It does so by cutting off the flow of nutrients from roots to the crown. Where did this pest come from? It is an invasive species from Eastern Russia and Asia.

It is thought that the Emerald Ash Borer was brought to America along with a shipment of parts. This is one of those inevitable unintended results of globalization. The entire United States is itself an unintended result of globalization. The Atlantic colonies were part of the first major era of globalization. Many of the earliest colonies, especially Virginia and New Netherland, were simply intended as capitalist investments and not to develop into full-fledged societies, much less an independent united country. One of the earliest unintended consequences back then was slavery. Another unintended consequence was multiculturalism.

Many Americans today worry about the consequences of mass immigration, even though multiple waves of mass immigration have occurred every century since the colonies were founded. America is mass migration. It is the heart and soul of this crazy experiment.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on a plaque at the feet of the Statue of Liberty)

In these words is the only moral justification to be found for our having become an empire or what in doublespeak is these days called a global superpower. Call it what you will, but the US acts like an empire: colonial territories such as Hawaii and Philippines; regularly starting wars of aggression along with regularly invading and occupying countries; military bases in countries all over the world and naval presence in international waters all over the world; et cetera. The US is the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

(See the following: Manifesting America by Mark Rifkin, The Dominion of War by Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, A Turn to Empire by Jennifer Pitts, and Among the Powers of the Earth by Eliga H. Gould)

I’m personally not in favor of my country being an empire (I say ‘my’ with some reservation for a subject doesn’t possess but is possessed by an empire, yet I must take some responsibility for it as I’m a direct beneficiary of its power). Nonetheless, if the metaphorical ‘we’ are going to be imperialists, we at least ought to stick to our moral justifications for doing so. We are an immigrant nation. This is our role in the world. Other countries accept us as big brother because every country has immigrants and descendants living in America. This is seen as everyone’s country. This is why the citizens of other countries mourned with US citizens after the 9/11 attack, and indeed the people who died in that attack were of diverse nationalities and citizenship. Without this moral justification for our empire-building, we are simply yet another big bully. Too many Americans want the benefits of being an empire with none of the responsibilities.

Multiculturalism is the tap root of the Tree of Liberty, whether for good or ill. In the 18th century, South Carolina had a African majority and Pennsylvania had a German majority. Further back in the 17th century, New Netherland had a Dutch majority, New Sweden a Swedish majority, the Spanish territories such as Florida with a Spanish majority and the French territories with a French majority. Even after being taken over by the British, New Netherland/New York still had a large Dutch population. Also, today much of the former Spanish territories that became the United States have continuously maintained a hispanic majority. Of course, the Native American territories had their native majority and once were the majority of the entire continent. These are the roots of the United States. This region of North America has never had a majority population that was of English descent.

One of the conflicts colonists had with the British government was over the rights of Englishmen. I wonder if the reason the British government was so uncertain about the colonies was the fact that there were so many colonists who weren’t Englishmen. I could understand as the ethnocentric ruling elite of an empire that they were wary of equally offering the rights of Englishmen to people who weren’t Englishmen. Those are the kinds of problems that come from empire-building. Nonetheless, the ruling elite in the colonies were also mostly Englishmen. So, they took quite seriously their supposed rights as Englishmen and took offense at their being denied.

Still, I wonder if it ever occurred to the mostly English-descended founding fathers, as they convened congress in Philadelphia, that they were surrounded by fellow colonists who weren’t Englishmen. Even back then, Pennsylvania was the Keystone. The Middle Colonies in general were what held together British Power on this side of the pond. This is why, during the French and Indian War, the British government spent so much money and effort defending the Middle Colonies. It is maybe understandable that those up in New England didn’t appreciate why they were paying higher taxes for the defense of the colonies when their region was never the focal point of that defense. Those New Englanders couldn’t appreciate that the defense of the Middle Colonies was the defense of all the colonies. They also couldn’t appreciate what it felt like to be in the Middle Colonies which had been the target of foreign empires.

Those in the Middle Colonies fully appreciated this which is why they were so reluctant to revolt. Plus, the Middle Colonies were filled with non-Englishmen who had no history with the British government and monarchy, no history of the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution. Even the Englishmen of the Middle Colonies who did have such history nonetheless had a very different view of it. I speak of the Quakers who had in some ways been given the greatest freedom for self-governance. The Monarchy was at times a better friend to the Quakers than their fellow colonial elites ever had been. There was well-founded fears of despotic power arising after the defeat of the British military, and quite prescient considering what this country has become.

It is interesting how this colonial region of multiculturalism was also the region with some of the strongest advocates for British loyalty and political moderation. It was the keystone not just for political and military reasons but also for cultural reasons. The Quakers as well believed in the rights of Englishmen. However, the Quakers were different in their understanding of English constitutionalism. They saw their rights directly rooted in the British constitution. They believed in popular sovereignty and that reform must be sought through the constitutional process. Englishmen didn’t lack a constitution and so didn’t need to create one. They simply needed to improve the very constitution that had given them the rights of Englishmen in the first place. (It is sadly ironic that this is precisely what is now claimed of the US constitution that violently replaced the British constitution. Americans prize their constitution and speak of the democratic process of creating amendments. Yet the US constitution was created by a process no more democratic than the process that created the British constitution.)

The Middle Colonies were the swing colonies for the issue of revolution just as today the Midwestern states are the swing states for presidential elections. It is partly because this has always been where the mass of the population has been centered. The reason it is centered here is because the Mid-Atlantic is where most immigrants arrived and the Midwest is where most immigrants settled. This wasn’t accidental but quite intentional. They were multicultural havens right from the start. To the North and to the South, the other colonial governments were more wary about letting just anyone to settle in their area or even merely to dock their ship full of immigrant strangers. In the Middle Colonies, especially Pennsylvania, a more tolerant attitude prevailed. This is the source of the Midwestern moderate sensibility.

During the revolutionary era, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and Delaware embodied this the most clearly. He was born of parents of multi-generational Quaker descent. He married a woman of multi-generational Quaker descent. He lived among Quakers and associated with Quakers. However, he came to believe in wars of defense which the Quakers didn’t support and so he wasn’t a Quaker. This single point aside, his worldview was thoroughly Quaker. But even in this point of disagreement, his taking a moderate support of war only in cases of defense was very fitting for the Quaker attitude of moderation. Dickinson was in this way semi-pacifist. He believed violence should be avoided at all costs when possible. His understanding of defense was very narrow and strict.

Dickinson was a principled man. Oddly, as a reform-minded moderate, he was a key player in helping to make the revolution possible. He was the most popular pamphleteer until Thomas Paine (the latter also having had Quaker values instilled in him by his father). Without what Dickinson helped start and what Paine helped finish, the American Revolution may never have gotten very far, quite likely not succeeding at all. These Quaker-descended righteous men (with, at least in the case of Paine, Quaker-taught plain speech) knew how to articulate a collective vision of freedom that unified what was otherwise just a bunch of disparate gripes about government. Many have misunderstand Paine as a mere revolutionary. Paine also sought moderation in his own way, but he sought a moderation of power that would benefit the commoner rather the established elite. To the established elite, this didn’t seem moderate at all. For example, Paine was a deist which he saw as a middleground position where the divine was envisioned as a moderating force between morally unrooted radical atheism/secularism and authoritarian theocratic tendencies such as established churches. Both Dickinson and Paine sought moderation while remaining principled. Neither changed with the times, but the world around them shifted over their lifetimes. They found themselves criticized and forgotten by those less moderate and less principled.

My point is to show the power of this vision of moderation. Like Quaker pacifism and tolerance, it need not be a position of weakness for it holds the potential of immense strength, both strength of conviction and strength of influence. Not all moderates are neutral and passive. The greatest wisdom of moderation, however, is easily forgotten even by moderates. When moderation loses its moral center, it merely becomes a defense of the status quo. The center is what holds, but what is being maintained and for what purpose?

The proponents of moderateness are what hold this diverse country together. An empire wouldn’t be possible without them. That is the rub. Modern empire-building has necessitated this kind of conservative-minded liberalism, the latter thus becoming complicit with the former. Why not give Hawaii back to the Hawaiians, the Philippines back to the Filipinos, former Northern Mexico back to the Mexicans, and at least some of the former Indian territories back to the Native Americans? Why did we as a country expend so much blood in keeping the country together during the Civil War? Why do we want to be a great power on the earth? Why not just be free and independent communities that govern themselves as they see fit?

I love the Midwest for its moderation. I truly believe the Midlands has helped keep this country together, for whatever that is worth (I often do think there is worth in this, certainly Dickinson and Paine did). Still, the dark side of this bothers me. I see it in a status quo mentality. The attitude of tolerance only goes so far and often is only advocated when it is convenient and easy, when no sacrifices are required. This is the rot in the Tree of Liberty.

Thomas Jefferson is famous for having said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” Jefferson proved to be less consistently principled than the likes of Dickinson and Paine, but still his words resonate as I don’t doubt that he believed them when he wrote them. What has often been on my mind lately is how the American Revolution was ideologically and politically lost by the principled reformers like Dickinson and the principled revolutionaries like Paine. Accordingly, it could be said that the American Revolution went too far and not far enough. Those who took the reigns of power were the very ones least interested in any liberty besides their own. It is strange how radical a moderate like Dickinson can sound compared to what came to pass.

I’ve never been sure about revolution, specifically violent revolution. It is hard to say that Canada is worse off for embracing slow reform instead of bloody insurrection. Canada has a more multicultural society than even the US. Plus, Canada has fewer of the problems found in the US: high poverty, high wealth inequality, low social mobility, etc. The American Revolution seems to have created a very divided country and made the Civil War inevitable. The British, instead, offered freedom to many slaves right after the revolution and many of them settled in free communities in Canada. I sometimes wonder if Canada is offering a better American Dream than America.

Is there something worth saving by moderation in America? Can we regain the moderate vision of John Dickinson? Or can we finally follow to completion the freedom-loving vision of Paine? If we are so incapable of worthwhile non-violent reform, what makes some people think that yet again more violence will solve our problems? How many more revolutions and civil wars do we need? What is this deformed tree of ‘liberty’ that has grown out of conflict? Should we hope to water it once again or just let it die from its own rot? What would we plant in its place? Or are there other seeds already planted that don’t need blood to grow?

“From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country–not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society–cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.”
~ Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

Prison Insanity

Here are some typical charts and some analysis:

Six Charts that Explain Why Our Prison System Is So Insane
by Paul Waldman
The American Prospect

For many of us, all of this is too familiar already, too familiar and soul-crushingly sad. Does the government think that instead of solving people’s problems (poverty, unemployment, homelessness, etc) that if they lock enough of us up they can stop revolution from happening? When a government fears its own citizens, that demonstrates how much power the citizens have and demonstrates most importantly that the government knows this.

The following is just some brief commentary by me. I just had to point this type of thing because I hope one day that the American people might one day wake up to this injustice.

Even though violent crime has drastically decreased, imprisonment rates of drastically increased.

It is specifically the State governments that are doing most of the imprisonment for violent crimes and so the Federal government can’t be primarily blamed for this aspect. One wonders why the focus on violent crime when it is a decreasing problem.

The Federal government, on the other hand, is mostly focused on the War on Drugs. One also wonders about not just why the Federal government is so focused on drugs but who they are focusing it upon. Why are more blacks imprisoned for drugs when the data shows more whites than blacks use drugs?



Maps of the World: What Unites & Divides

There has been a set of amusing and edifying maps that have received some attention on the web:

40 Maps They Didn’t Teach You In School

Some I had seen before, but many were new to me. The one that caught my attention was about freedom of press. It is the type of thing that gets me thinking.

The US just gets a satisfactory rating, along with Australia, much of Europe, four countries in South America (including the large Argentina), six countries in Africa, and some of the island countries off the coast of China. Satisfactory isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t great. A rather sad state of affairs for supposedly freedom-loving Americans.

What is more predictable are the countries that get a good rating, although not entirely predictable. Canada, of course, gets a better rating than the good ol’ US of A. Also, a large section of Northern Europe predictably rates well. Among the British Isles, it appears only Ireland has a good rating. What is mind-blowing is that Nambia in Southern Africa rates good as well.

Sadly, America is less than great. More like middling, if anything. But anyone paying attention already knew that.

In response to that map, the Washington Post put out its own sampling of maps:

40 maps that explain the world

What stands out to me is how similar the US is to many countries Americans wouldn’t identify with.

The US is a majority Christian country, like the rest of the Americas and also like the entirety of Southern Africa (the majority of the African continent, in fact). More interestingly, the US has about the same number of atheists as Argentina and Saudi Arabia.

Canada and Europe follow the typical pattern in having more gay rights than the US, but the protected freedom for gays is also higher in South America and South Africa. South America even has high rates of tolerance for gays, although less so in South Africa. The US has moderate tolerance for gays, but we just don’t believe in protecting their rights like other Americans. This tolerance rating doesn’t seem to have anything to do with religion since, for example, Canada has the same atheist rating as the US.

One would suspect that tolerance correlates to diversity. Familiarity and empathy tend to go hand in hand.

Despite being an immigrant nation, the US is only average on the ethnic diversity scale. South America and Africa are more diverse. It says a lot too that Canada is more diverse, as Canada rates better than the US on most measurements (either the American Dream emigrated North or always was there). Europe is shown as the least ethnically diverse region in the world, although Spain a country with millennia of multicultural history is more middling like the US (maybe unsurprising as more than half of the US used to be part of the Spanish Empire; then again, Hispanic Mexico is more ethnically diverse than both the US and Spain).

I must admit I feel suspicious about the ethnic diversity map because I don’t know how ethnic diversity is being defined and measured. The US might be middling simply because the population is so mixed up with ethnic intermarriages. Reading the related article, it sounds more like the researchers were measuring ethnic perception which I’m not sure is the best method. I’m thinking that what is being measured is more about whether people identify more with their nation or with their ethnic group (tribe, clan, etc). Developed countries have show more ethnic homogeneity because more people simply identify with their country.

Racial tolerance is a good measure for comparison. In this, the US and Canada are the same (and also Australia, the other British-founded country). So is most of the rest of the Americas, Central and South. Europe is a mixed bag. Spain has a fair amount of racial tolerance. The most tolerant in Europe are Britain and most northern countries. Interestingly, once again South Africa fits in here as well. Pakistan for some reason also rates well in racial tolerance.

The welcoming to foreigners map offers a different perspective. Racial tolerance may only apply to races within one’s country. Canada seems to be the only country in the world, as far as I can tell from the maps, that rates highly both on racially tolerance and welcoming to foreigners. Canada is beginning to sound like utopia. That said, countries like Mexico, Brazil and South Africa also rate fairly well on both. The US, like Spain, is only middling on this measure. Argentina is one of those countries that, while racially tolerant, isn’t friendly to strangers. The map shows some surprising locations that apparently would be good places to travel in or move to: Turkey, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and a few others.

Some other maps are truly bizarre in their implications.

Why the heck do all the countries in the Americas rate highly emotional?

The US and Canada are one big mass of emotional expressiveness. Another blot of emotion is found down in South America with El Salvador being the second most emotional country in the world. All the countries in the Americas are just plain emotional. Most of the rest of the world is emotionally frigid in comparison. There are some exceptions, though. Like always, Africa is a mix with Angola being highly emotional. The Arab United Emirates and Oman pop up again, along with somewhat higher ratings for many Middle Eastern countries. The Phillipines, former colony of Spain and the US, also rates high (the most emotional country in the world) along with relatively high ratings for the other nearby island countries and Australia (plus, the nearby Southern Asian countries). In Europe, the countries that stand out for their emotionality are France, Spain and Ireland (it’s hard to tell from the map, but it looks like Belgium also rates high).

There are two patterns here that interest me. First, Spanish and English speaking countries tend to be highly emotional. The US gets a double dose on this account. Canada similarly gets a double dose with British and French influence. Second, post-Soviet countries are among the most emotionally stoic. Emotion in Europe appears to generally increase as you move West. The reason for these patterns is not entirely clear to me. Why would the English language correlate to emotionality? The English people aren’t known for emotional effusiveness. On the scale, the English are just moderately emotional. Maybe there is something about the Celtic influence as Ireland rates highly. English-speaking countries like the US do have large amounts of Irish ancestry. Ireland would also relate to France and Spain for the Irish originate from the Basque who live in the border region of those two countries. This might explain an element of the low ratings of the post-Soviet countries for the Celtic populations were most concentrated in Western Europe.

The other odd map is that of feeling loved or not. It seems to fit almost perfectly to the emotional map. The countries that tend to have high rates of emotional expressiveness also tend to have high rates of feeling loved. Maybe that isn’t so odd, after all. How can you know that you’re loved if no one expresses love to you? Anyway, the Americas are one big love-fest.

I purposely saved the Muslim maps for last.

Some Muslim countries want democracy and others less so. Quite a few of the Muslim countries in Africa say they prefer democracy to a strong leader. The same is found with Turkey and Tajikistan along with the Southeast Asian islands and peninsula. However, on either side of Tajikistan are two countries (Kyrgizstan and Pakistan) that are unfriendly to democracy. The Middle East overall is mostly averaging in its support or lack thereof for democracy.

The map of perceived religious conflict within a country is almost a mirror opposite of the pro-democracy map. Does the perceived religious conflict cause a lack of support for democracy? Or vice versa?

The third and final Muslim map shows why generalizing about all Muslims is problematic. It is a map about honor killings, specifically whether they are never justified over female sexual offenses. A few Muslim countries are apparently evenly split between those who say it is never justified and those who disagree. It looks like there are only five Muslim countries with a clear majority who think such vigilante justice is sometimes or always justified. However, most of the Muslim countries rated here have a majority supporting the view that is never justified.

Property is Theft: So is the Right’s Use of ‘Libertarian’

An extensive article about Rothbard and anarchism:

Rothbard: “We must therefore conclude that we are not anarchists”
by afaq

An Anarchist FAQ spends some time explaining, probably in far too much detail given their small size and corresponding importance, why “anarcho”-capitalism is not a form of anarchism. Ironically, its founder Murray Rothbard once agreed!”

The author made an interesting comment where he offered a juicy quote from Rothbard:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over…” (The Betrayal of the American Right, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, 2007, p. 83)

I’ve always wondered about that. I’ve come across Chomsky explaining the origins of libertarianism in the European workers movement that included anarchists, Marxists, communists, etc. American libertarians, for the most part, are almost entirely ignorant of the origins of their ideology. It turns out that this was an intentional strategy to undermine leftist ideologies by co-opting them and creating bastardized versions of them that betray their original inspiration and principles.

Here is another article from the same website that discusses the issue:

Mutual Aid, Parecon and the right stealing “libertarian”
by Anarcho