The Dissatisfaction of a Restless Mind

In dealing with ideologues, it makes one wonder what makes some people so strongly trapped in a worldview. Plenty of people are passively stuck in all kinds of assumptions, belief systems, and reality tunnels. That is normal human behavior, but others take it to a whole new level. It becomes an active defense of dogma.

Being a skeptic and a freethinker doesn’t mean never falling into various cognitive biases and ideological blinders. It simply means constantly climbing back out of the holes one constantly falls into.

I was thinking about myself, in this context. These past years I’ve come to question and doubt so much that I held to in the past. When I grew up, I learned many things from my parents and other authority figures, from public education and mainstream media. I didn’t think to question most of it at the time, for I didn’t even understand that there was something to question and alternative perspectives from which to question.

What forced me to change my mind so much over these past decades?

Take genetics, as an example. In high school science, I was taught a hereditarian view of genetics, not unlike what many HBDers and other race realists hold. I wasn’t taught much, if anything, about environmental influences, gene-environment interactions, multiple gene interactions, epigenetics, etc. Public education didn’t give me a great preparation for scientific understanding. But I can’t blame just public education. That hereditarian view was a fairly dominant view of our entire society for a long time. Much of the most challenging research, especially about epigenetics, is relatively recent.

I had to study on my own to realize there were other views and other evidence. But I had to be motivated to do so. What makes some people motivated and others not?

I could say that I’m just more intellectually honest or more curious. That would be self-flattering. The truth is more psychologically fundamental. I’m a basically dissatisfied person. I have a way of seeking out or otherwise attracting data that contradicts what I think I know and people who disagree with what I believe. I climb out of holes of my own bad thinking, if even just to to climb into new holes to find out what it looks like from there. I couldn’t imagine spending my entire life sitting in the same hole.

I like to blame this on my depression. I’m simply an unhappy person. My restless mind precedes any expression of intellectual curiosity. My mind was always restless, long before I took up intellectual pursuits. I feel incapable of being an ideologue, not for reasons of internal strength and inherent honesty, but because I lack something many other people possess. It is a weakness, as far as it goes for being successful in this society. A permanent state of dissatisfaction is not a blessing.

I’m not the smartest person in the world. I’m not the most learned. The main thing I’ve got going for me is dissatisfaction, for whatever its worth. Given enough time, I will question and doubt anything and everything… sometimes to the point of cynicism and despair. It isn’t a pleasant fate. If I must suffer this dissatisfaction, I will force ideologues to suffer along with me by constantly challenging them. It is only fair.

The Bouncing Basketball of Race Realism

There is a blog, Occidentalist, I’ve been occasionally commenting at this past month or so. The blogger, Chuck, is a race realist. He is fairly typical in holding a human biodiversity perspective, a semi-deterministic model of genetics. He is somewhat of true believer, but he occasionally expresses some niggling doubts about standard race realist beliefs. It is too bad he doesn’t take his own doubts seriously.

He also doesn’t take seriously some of the most interesting recent data. That is the strangest thing about this type of person. They are intellectual and knowledgeable to an extent, but they are committed to a particular worldview in a quite unscientific way. Science is used merely to express their certainty and so used selectively, instead of as a pathway of curiosity and learning.

I shared an analysis of some recent research that is paradigm-shattering (which I’ve previously posted about in my blog). None of the old theories can explain much of it, partly because it isn’t clear exactly what is in need of explanation, the unknowns being unknown. I highlighted one study in particular:

“Somehow, though, invisible influences intervened. With the scientists controlling for nearly everything they could control, mice with the exact same genes behaved differently depending on where they lived. And even more surprising: the differences were not consistent, but zigged and zagged across different genetic strains and different locations. In Portland, one strain was especially sensitive to cocaine and one especially insensitive , compared to the same strains in other cities. In Albany, one particular strain— just the one— was especially lazy. In Edmonton , the genetically altered mice tended to be just as active as the wild mice, whereas they were more active than the wild mice in Portland and less active than the wild mice in Albany. It was a major hodgepodge”

I made three basic points about this and the other studies:

1) We can no longer honestly claim percentage estimates about genetic vs environmental influence. It isn’t just that past research wasn’t controlling for all confounding factors. Genetic researchers are beginning to realize they don’t even know how to control for all confounding factors because quite a few apparently are unknown at present. We don’t even know how to attempt to disentangle these factors so as to isolate them all. More importantly, we can’t figure out how to separate genetics from the environmental background of this complex web of confounding factors.

2) It has typically been assumed that if researchers controlled for all obvious genetic and environmental factors it should lead to the same basic results. Slight variances are to be expected, but nothing to the extreme differences as found in that mouse study. It demonstrates possibly very minor differences, so small as to be presently undetectable, can lead to major alterations in end results. It demonstrates how powerful environmental conditions can be, even when they are being controlled for with the best methods researchers know how to use.

3) In the uncontrolled conditions of human lives, the environmental influences would be even more powerful. No human study of genetics has come even close to how well controlled this mouse study was done. Even most animal studies aren’t that well controlled. This relates to the issue of the poor quality of much medical research, specifically in terms of race realism.

His response was dismissal, as if it meant very little, just a mild curiosity at best:

“None of this is to say that epigenetics isn’t marginally interesting.”

Ho-hum… *yawn*… nothing interesting here, folks… just move along.

It was like he couldn’t even see it, not really. In his mind, it wasn’t there in some basic sense. He assumed he had seen it all before and so he didn’t need to look at this new data in order to take it seriously, because if he had seen it all before how could new data show him something he hadn’t already seen, right?

It wasn’t just about epigenetics. The study I highlighted brought up other issues about environmental conditions, confounding factors, and scientific controls. It challenges Chuck’s assumptions and conclusions at a fundamental level, and yet he could barely acknowledge what I had shared. He just went on repeating his same basic argument, like he has done a thousand times before.

I’m reminded of a social experiments about inattentional blindness, where focusing one thing makes people unaware of other things. One study had the subjects count the number of times a basketball was dribbled. While they were preoccupied, a person in a gorilla costume came out and began dancing where he was easily seen. When asked about it, most people didn’t remember a dancing gorilla, despite the extreme oddness of such an intrusion. It simply didn’t fit into the parameters of their focus of concern, the bounding basketball. Even if the subject was right about their claim of how many times the basketball bounced, they still missed the most interesting thing that was happening.

Race realists such as Chuck are like this. They share a lot of data that is correct, but the obsession about certain data disallows them from appreciating other data. They know what they know in great detail, and they often love to swamp discussions with a ton of data. The failure is that their knowledge lacks a larger context of understanding. Their opinions can never change, no matter the data, as long as they continue to narrowly focus on that bouncing basketball of race realism.

Orphan Trains in Context: History, Culture, and Law

Orphan trains represent a transitional period in American history. Many threads from the past became entangled as American society struggled with issues of greater freedom and social justice.

In the early US, there obviously wasn’t much in the way of welfare, for families and for children without families. It didn’t take long for an era of reform to follow after the era of revolution. Shifting conditions, economic and demographic, forced change to happen. The stress on society was immense and new systems were put into place to offer a relief valve. This is the context in which I wish to speak of orphan trains.

These orphan trains operated from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Children without parents (or without what judges deemed capable or “worthy” parents) were considered a major problem in the big cities, and this problem grew with the influx of immigrants, often poor and unemployed. Industrialization brought people to the cities and built the railroads, simultaneously exacerbating the problem and offering a possible solution, a pathway for moving a perceived excess of youths elsewhere.

It was a time when the Westward expansion and rural farm life was being idealized to a greater extent. It just so happened that sending unwanted kids West also made them someone else’s problems, but it worked out well since those out West often were looking for cheap labor. The kids, however, didn’t always benefit from this deal… not that urban poverty offered them much hope either.

It was natural for trains to be used in dealing with orphans, juvenile delinquents, and “street urchins”. Large numbers of children from the cities on the Eastern seaboard were sent west on trains. The kids were pulled off the trains in rural areas and, in the early phase of this system, anyone who wanted a kid could take one or two or three. Some people were actually looking to adopt children, but others wanted extra hands on the farm or around the house. The main obligation supposedly being that a “good home” was provided, although this was defined loosely and not enforced to any great degree.

* * * *

The early waves of reformers were a product of their time. The first orphan trains operated prior to the Civil War. The slavery debate was heating up and it touched upon every aspect of society, orphan trains included. Some abolitionists feared that the orphan trains were being used as an extension of slavery, and there was reason behind their fear. Not all the orphans were being adopted. Many were being indentured, a term I was unfamilliar with:

“When a child is adopted, he/she become equal to the natural children in all respects – including inheritance.

“Indenture was a legal means to remove a child from an unsatisfactory home without a long court procedure.  The child was not given inheritance rights.  People tended to use the two terms interchangeably but they are not the same thing.  Many people simply did not know the difference.”

The legal background to adoption and foster care has its roots in indenture, which is a practice and a legal construct many centuries old and having continued into the early 20th century. This indenture of orphans is basically the same indentured servitude that preceded and was the precedent for slavery. In fact, the out-placing of children with the orphan trains has its origins long before the Civil War, having been inspired by the out-placing of British children to the American colonies where they were sold into indentured servitude. Besides Africans, the first generation of indentured servants in America include the Irish. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, Irish children were a major target of the welfare societies operating the orphan trains.

Indenture diverged from slavery as a new racial order took over in the late colonial period. This was a sore point in American society, for it showed the class war at the heart of the American experiment, an experiment ruled by a plutocracy. This is why the debate of how to deal with the welfare of children was mixed up with the debate of slavery and capitalism. Defenders of slavery feared the expansion of indenture for similar reasons they feared industrialized capitalism as it was practiced in the North, as both were seen as competition for the slave system, making slaves less valuable and bringing whites down to the same level of slaves.

* * * *

The orphan trains were at the heart of all this. There was great debate about them, about how the process was being implemented and its results. The debate only ended when the orphan trains themselves ended, seventy-five years after they began in the 1850s.

During that time period, some reformers sought to go beyond indenture, but new legal systems were slow to develop. Initially, there wasn’t much legal framework upon which to base adoption and foster care. Trying to avoid the problems of the old ways of doing things, many new problems took their place. Getting rid of indenture without creating new legal protections for children simply created a system that was haphazard and lacked oversight.

No one knew what happened to many of the children who were neither indentured nor adopted. They simply slipped through the cracks, sent away and lost to all records. Abuse, no doubt, was rampant. Many children were used as cheap or even free labor. Still others became victims, whether of violence or sexual exploitation… or who knows what else.

It was upon the groundwork of colonial practices of indenture and slavery that capitalism was built. And it was against such practices that the struggle for democratic freedom was fought. The 1800s was the time when our society sought to get beyond old forms of social control and oppression, both indenture and slavery, the remnants of which continued well into the twentieth century with child labor in factories and the chain gangs of prison laborers.

* * * *

Protection of the defenseless took a long time to become established in law. Our modern sentiments about the innocence of childhood and the universality of human rights is a fairly recent invention.

Another recent invention is our present conception of whiteness. One of the most interesting stories of the orphan trains relates back to one of the main protagonists of this story, the Irish. They weren’t always deemed white. The English and Anglo-Americans were known to compare the Irish to Africans and Native Americans. The Irish were savages and foreigners, partly because they were mostly Catholic. Unlike today, Catholicism wasn’t seen as just another variety of Christianity. Protestants, specifically WASPs, saw Catholics as an alien culture. One of the names given to poor Irish children was “street Arabs”.

How did these Irish become white and hence “real Americans”?

This was a long process. In the early colonies, Africans and Irish indentured servants lived together, worked together, and I suppose had children together when the opportunity allowed. The racial order of slavery came later and that was the beginning of the Irish transition toward whiteness, initially simply being represented by their legally defined non-blackness. This shift of racial identity was solidified during the era of orphan trains.

WASPs, in their fear of Catholics, intentionally placed Catholic children into Protestant homes. In response, Catholics began to implement their own programs to deal with Catholic children in need of homes. One such case involved nuns bringing a trainload of Irish orphans to Arizona to be adopted by Catholic families. The problem was that the Catholic families in question were Mexican-American. The nuns didn’t understand the local racism/ethnocentrism involved and were taken by surprise by the response of the local WASPs. The “white” population living there took great offense at this challenge to racial purity. Suddenly, when put into that context, the Irish children were deemed to be innocent whites to be protected against an inferior race. This is ironic because where those Irish children came from in the big cities out East they were considered the inferior race.

This is the just-so story about how the leopard got his spots… er, I mean, how the Irish got his whiteness.

* * * *

This is key to understanding America. It was in the East where hyphenated ethnic Americans were minorities, seen as outsiders and threats to the status quo. But it was out West where the American Dream took fuller form and part of this was emergence of broader notion of whiteness. Old stigmas of ethnicity and class could be left behind and a new life begun. Out West, the right skin color and work ethic were what mattered. Whiteness offered great privilege for those willing to leave the East or else who, like these orphans, were forced to leave.

The untold part of this story is, as always, the indigenous perspective. Every ethnic group was being pushed elsewhere, in the contest for power and social control. The British sent the Scots-Irish to Ireland and the Irish to America. The welfare reformers then tried their best to send the children of the Irish and other ethnic minorities to the West, a place many ethnic minorites already had escaped to. The Native Americans, of course, were pushed ever westward finally ending up in reservations. Like the children of ethnic minorities, many children of Native Americans were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools where every aspect of their culture was forbidden.

It was all about forced assimilation through cultural genocide. It never fully succeeded in all cases, but it succeeded well enough to undermine the power of most minority groups that sought to maintain their political, economic, and cultural independence. Quite an ugly process, oftentimes motivated by good intentions based in the belief in the power of environmental influences, a rather modern understanding of human nature. Reformers wanted to save people from themselves, going so far as to save children from their own parents and communities. Orphan trains were one tool in the battle to defend WASP identity and so-called real American values.

This is the background for what American became in the 20th century, everything from the Ku Klux Klan to univesal public education. The question was always how does one make immigrants and minorities into good American citizens, even against their will if necessary.

* * * *

The deeper challenge that Americans have never been able to face is that of the problems of the social order itself. The various minorities didn’t cause their own poverty and all the issues related to poverty, such as homelessness and orphaned children. The social order was built on high economic inequality and low economic mobility. This is obvious when one sees that the prejudices and oppressions of American society have their deepest roots in British imperialism and colonialism.

Shipping poor kids out of poor neighborhoods and communities does absolutely nothing to solve the problem that caused those kids to be born into poverty. Get rid of one generation of kids without changing the conditions and new generations will continue to be born into poverty. So much of welfare has always focused on results, instead of causes. The fear that the poor were a threat to the social order was a real fear, but sadly reformers were often the least likely to be in a position to understand that the social order itself was a threat to much of the population. When a system of conflict, oppression, and social control is created, almost everything becomes a potential threat.

A new country was founded with the American Revolution and yet all the old problems of the British Empire were carried over. Reformers are interested in reform for the very reason that they wish to defend the social order. But because they are invested in the social order, they aren’t in the position to see clearly the problems of the social order that need to be reformed. That is the eternal failure of reform. Hence, that is the frustration of social justice advocates across all of American history.

This country still struggles with poverty and inequality, all of the problems that have plagued this society from the beginning. We are no closer to dealing with these problems than were the 19th century reformers. In many ways, the problems have grown worse as wealth and power have been concentrated even further.

* * * *

Orphan Train Myths And Legal Reality
Rebecca S. Trammell

“The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction” by Linda Gordon
Debra Dickerson

In Arizona, all social significance hinged on the differences between “whites” and the inferiors: Mexicans, “Chinamen,” blacks and Indians. Closest to white in appearance and comportment, Mexicans were at the top of the list but remained (then as now) non-white. Intermarriage (or more often, intercourse) between whites and Mexicans was common and largely accepted in the Southwest, but there were limits — Mexicans adopting white children, for instance. Gordon’s convincing analysis of the nuns’ mistake and the debacle that followed points up some potent racial ironies that are still worth savoring today: The Easterners didn’t understand that the same train ride that would bring their Irish charges parents and homes would also make them white. Of course, had they been white in New York, there would have been no need for the arduous journey west.

Orphan Train Riders: The White Slavery Movement
Our Future Rooted in Our Past

These children were labeled as “Street Arabs”, “the dangerous classes”, and ‘street urchins” to name a few. In the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s of the United States history, these problems escalated and led Charles Loring Brace, a minister in New York, to found The Children’s Aid Society in 1853 in New York City. Orphanages or asylums as they were called back then, did exist, but Charles L. Brace felt that it was not the best environment for children to grow and develop. Brace thought that the children would benefit from fresh air, work and a loving family and resulted in the birth of the Orphan Trains. Unfortunately the loving family life was not always the case and the child would have to be moved to another family.

In 1865, the New York Foundling Asylum was founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. Beginning in 1872, the Asylum began to send children in trains out to families in the west. Indentured forms were filled out by the people accepting the child with indenture lasting until they were 18 years of age. The New England Home For Little Wanderers (NEHFLW) in Boston, Chicago Home Society, Minnesota Home Society, and other such societies also placed children with families on the frontier. Most children were never adopted into the families they went to but became indentured servants.

Book Review: Orphan Train
Literary Hoarders

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called “orphan trains” transported more than 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, and homeless children between the ages of 2 and 14 from the East Coast to the Midwest for foster care and adoption. But their treatment often amounted to indentured servitude. Chosen first were infants, for more traditional adoptions, and older boys, for their manual labor; adolescent girls were typically selected last. While some children quickly found love and acceptance, many walked a harder road.

Orphan Trains of Nebraska
Ancestry.com

From 1854 to 1929, signs like this were posted and published all across the Midwest. Over 150,000 orphaned, homeless or neglected children were uprooted from the city and sent by “Orphan Trains” to farming communities, primarily in the Midwest, to be adopted out to good homes. In this way, the city of New York was not only drastically reducing their orphan problems, — they were also aiding others who desperately wanted children. The children were taken by train and often lined up at predetermined stops to be “looked over” and adopted (or in many cases indentured). Those not selected were taken to the next stop in hopes of finding a new home. For many children, life improved because they found homes with loving adults to care for them. Others, however, were not so fortunate, and their lives became more miserable as they found themselves in homes where they were used chiefly for slave labor. (in 1927, there were still 12 states, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Nebraska and Kansas allowing indenture of children who had been turned over to poor farms or county authorities) And even though the “Orphan Train” brings thoughts of poor orphaned children, this was not always the case. Many of the children still had parents, but their family could not care for them and put them into state run homes, until they could get back on their feet. When the official transporting of children was ended in 1930, the migration of these children encompassed 47 states!

Orphan Trains (1854 – 1929)
Angelique Brown

In the 1920s the number of Orphan Trains decreased sharply. It was at that time that states began passing laws that prohibited placing children across state lines. Additionally, there was criticism from abolitionists who felt that the Orphan Trains supported slavery. Pro-slavery advocates criticized the practice as well, saying that it was making slaves obsolete. In 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau was established with the mission of helping states support children and families and alleviate many of the factors that led to children living on the street. As state and local governments became more involved in supporting families, the use of the Orphan Trains was no longer needed.

Riding the Orphan Train: What we can learn about modern slavery from our own history
Beyond Borders

Between 1853 and 1929 roughly a quarter million American children were swept off the streets of New York and other east coast cities and sent westward on trains to live with and work for farm families. Some were true orphans. Many others were not. Many landed in loving homes and were cared for and sent to school. Many others were not and essentially became child slaves.

In fact, before the civil war opponents of this practice in the south argued that the real purpose of the orphan trains was to reduce demand for slavery in midwestern states. Then, after slavery had been outlawed, abolitionists in the north opposed the practice, arguing that many families were now using the free labor of these children in place of slaves they had lost or could never afford.

Trains would stop in midwestern and southern towns, and the children would file off and parade before the assembled townspeople, often on hastily constructed stages. Locals would inspect the children, feel their muscles, look at their teeth, and question them. Contact between the children and their families back east was strongly discouraged. Many of these children ran away from the abusive new homes they were placed in, and a few even found their way back to their families in the east.

Questions remain for orphan train survivors and descendants
ECM Publishers

An ad in an 1882 edition of the Albert Lea newspaper stated, “A company of boys from the Children’s Aid Society of New York City will arrive in Albert Lea on Friday, November 17, for the purpose of finding homes and employment with farmers and others. There will be a meeting for the distribution.”

An article in the November, 19, 1913 St. Cloud paper reported that 100 children from New York, ranging in ages from one to four years, would be distributed in tearns County. (Pictured are Betty Murphy and Sister Justina Bieganek, both of whom were riders, Barb Noll, Gen Gustafson and Colleen Murphy. Staff photo by Joyce Moran)

Distributed?? Today, one sometimes hears about pumpkins being distributed … or, seedling trees. But children?

Such was the case, however, when, from 1854 to 1929, an estimated 200,000 children were transported by train from the Children’s Aid Society Orphanage and the New York Foundling Orphanage, both of New York City, bound for distribution to homes across the United States.

The children generally arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. A cloth patch attached to their shirts contained their names. Some carried birth and Baptismal Certificates—some did not. Most did carry an indenture paper which legalized their adoption.

“The children went through the most traumatic experience of all,” said Renae Wendinger of Sleepy Eye, MN, the daughter of one who rode an orphan train—”the breaking of family ties.”

Wendinger was in Little Falls August 25 and 26, participating in the 40th annual reunion of Orphan Train Riders who came to Minnesota and nearby vicinities. The reunion took place, as it often has over the years, at the St. Francis Center.

“Some children went to good homes,” continued Wendinger. “Some did not. Some people just wanted a servant or someone to take care of them in their old age. This was not considered cruel because our country was still familiar with servants and slavery.”

Going on, Wendinger related that some children were legally adopted while others were not. And often, she said, siblings were not kept together because a family only wanted one child.

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed
Stephen O’Connor

Most of these charges were not new. Editorialists and critics had compared outplacement to slavery practically since the departure of the first train, and these were far from the first examples of abuse that had been brought up in a public forum. What was different was that so many joined so vocally in the criticism, a signal both that a new consensus was emerging among a mostly younger class of child welfare professionals and that Brace’s power and prestige had begun to erode.

Brace was being attacked partly because of his prominence, especially after the publication of The Dangerous Classes. T/he sins that the CAS was being accused of were, after all, true of virtually every organization that placed orphaned or vagrant children in families. The New York Department of Charities relied on correspondence from the foster parents to monitor even children placed in the city and, as Mary Ellen Wilson’s case demonstrated, did not do a much better job than the CAS of checking up when required reports did not come in. In-city placements by a well-regarded Philadelphia agency were visited only once a year, while children placed by the Catholic Protectory were visited once every two to five years. Those children placed by the Randall’s Island House of Refuge were never visited at all. The attacks on Charles Loring Brace were clearly part of a much-needed self-correction of the entire American child welfare system. And he was singled out for attack because he was the exemplar of the old consensus — the main idol who had to be toppled.

“Philomena’s” story is just one example of the forced adoption of Irish children
Tom Deignan, Irish Central

For a people so passionate about the past, an Irish American’s longing for roots he never knew might seem unusual. But over the course of Irish American history, there are unfortunately many stories of children separated at young ages from their parents and compelled to grow up in strange, sometimes abusive, new surroundings.

And even if they were relocated to loving homes (as Michael Hess seems to have been, raised by a Catholic family in St. Louis), these Irish children were forced to grow up detached from the faith and culture into which they were born.

Perhaps the most prominent and controversial symbol of this was the Children’s Aid Society, which ran so-called “orphan trains” for Irish and other immigrant children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Supporters argued that large numbers of Irish kids were wandering big city streets homeless, and that relocating them to loving families in the mid-West was a blessing.

Critics, however, note that the children were often exploited for their ability to labor on farms.

“At its worst it was not much better than slavery,” author Christina Baker Kline said in a recent NPR interview.

Earlier this year, Kline did extensive research for her novel “Orphan Train,” which features a young Irish girl named Niamh who loses her family in a tenement fire.

Orphan train children “were all between the ages of mostly two — but sometimes as young as babies, baby trains were called ‘mercy trains’ — and up to the age of 14. Those 14-year-old boys, 12- to 14-year-old boys, were the most in demand because obviously they were labor,” Kline said.

It also did not help that Children’s Aid Society founder Charles Loring Brace had an extensive record of anti-Catholic writing, and was open to the charge that he was taking Catholics off the dirty city streets in order to convert them into Protestants.

According to Kline, the extent of the era’s anti-Irish sentiment went to bizarre lengths.

“I came across a newspaper article from The New York Times about how the trains that were being sent were not allowing redheads,” she said.

During a heated exchange of letters in The New York Times back in 2001, Irish American novelist and historian Peter Quinn said the Children’s Aid Society “was not merely a compassionate agent of charitable relief…but an active partner with the courts and Protestant proselytizing societies in seeking to ‘redeem’ Irish Catholic children from a cultural-religious identity considered destructive of personal virtue and moral behavior.”

Of course, many Irish “orphan train” children grew up to live happy and productive lives. But the pervasive sense of dislocation and loss these children must have felt – especially after their own parents endured the trauma and uncertainty of emigration – is a rarely-discussed aspect of the Irish experience in America.

The Orphan Trains Transcript
American Experience, PBS

NARRATOR: Children drifted from farm to farm. Some even made their way back to New York. There were stories of children landing in reform school in Michigan; from Indiana, rumors of children on the dole. A southerner named J. H. Mills claimed that “men needing labor, their slaves being set free, take these boys and treat them as slaves.”

ELLIOTT HOFFMAN BOBO: There was one boy. I refused to go home with this farmer, too. He took this other boy, Albert– maybe I shouldn’t name him, but– and they kept him on the farm, wouldn’t send him to school, worked him eighteen hours a day in the field and he just lost his mind. And he died at an early age, less than thirty years of age. And he finally ran away from home, but it was too late. They wouldn’t let him go to town and see people, afraid he’d tell them how badly he was treated. And he never saw anybody. Didn’t– once– I saw him about two times during the whole time he was there, about ten years. I just saw him twice and he was afraid to talk to me. And I couldn’t– I couldn’t help him. I didn’t know enough to help him. But my dad always thought that he was abused, so he was afraid to talk about it, afraid he’d be abused some more.

NARRATOR: The record books are filled with names and dates, details of departures and arrivals, but say little about the quality of the children’s treatment. The extent of abuse is unknown.

The Society’s goal was to visit each child once a year, but there were only a handful of agents to monitor thousands of placements. With reports of children drifting through the countryside, Brace consented in 1883 to an independent investigation. It found the local committees were ineffective at screening foster parents. Supervision was lax. Many older boys had run away. But its overall conclusion was positive. The majority of children under fourteen were leading satisfactory lives.

READER: [Ann] “Dear Mr. Brace: When I lived in New York, I had no bonnet and now I have more bonnets than I can wear. And I get no whippings and I have a father and mother and brothers and sisters here and they are kinder to me than my own ever were. I think I will never be happier than I am now.”

NARRATOR: In New York, the children of a new generation of immigrants were facing deprivation and homelessness. Brace continued to insist that removal from the city was the street children’s best hope for deliverance. he used photographs like these, made by his protégé, Jacob Riis, to dramatize their plight.

The Society boasted about the story of two street kids, Andrew Burke and John Brady, who were sent to the same Indiana town on the same day. On arrival, the judge who adopted Brady considered him “the homeliest, toughest, most unpromising boy in the whole lot.” He said, “I had a curious desire to see what could be made of such a specimen of humanity.” John Brady grew up to be governor of Alaska. His friend, Andrew Burke, grew up to be governor of North Dakota.

But many rural people viewed the orphan train children with suspicion, as incorrigible offspring of drunkards and prostitutes. The children spoke with the accents of Ireland, Germany and Italy. Unlike most Midwesterners, many were Catholic. One official said, “What was good for New York was very bad for the west.”

READER: [farmer] “I have known several of these city Arabs being provided with homes and never heard of but one that proved to be honest. I believe it is the blood and not the education that tells.”

ALICE AYLER: Bad blood. That’s what they used to consider it. We kids from New York were of inferior stock. Bad blood is what’s running through those veins and some people have bad blood and others have blue blood. Well, the bad blood is supposed to carry the bad things down from your parents. Through your life, all the bad things are supposed to come through that bad blood and you don’t have a chance to do better.

Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed
Stephen O’Connor
pp. 95-7

“The most significant antecedent of all, however, not only for Brace’s orphan trains  but also for both of the earlier American “placing out” efforts, was simply  the indenture system. Indenture even had a long history of being used for the reform and removal of undesirable or potentially criminal children. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the British routinely gathered up — or kidnapped — poor children from the slums of London and sent them to the colonies to be bound servants. For much of that same period American commissioners of the poor had sought to “reform” destitute children by placing them in supposedly “respectable” homes at great distances from their depraved parents. The Philadelphia House of Refuge, where John Jackson had been incarcerated, commonly indentured boys to sea captains and had even placed one child as far away as Peru.

“By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the indenture system was in its final phase, having succumbed, on the one hand, to the looser employer-employee ties fostered by wage labor and the market economy, and, on the other hand, to the changing attitudes toward children and — under the influence of abolitionism — bonded servitude itself. In a way, the orphan trains were an attempt to modify an increasingly outmoded system, or at least to rescue that system’s best elements.

“Under the standard indenture agreement, a child was “bound,” generally until the age of twenty-one, to a master who, in exchange for labor, was expected to train the child in the “art and mystery” of his craft and to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and a “common” education. At the termination of the indenture, the master was also supposed to give the apprentice a suit of clothes and often a bit of money and a Bible.

“The agreement between the CAS and prospective families was identical in its general outline but differed in ways designed to give the child more freedom and protection. The most important difference was that orphan train riders were not “bound” to the families they went to live with. Unless the child was adopted by the new family, the CAS or the child’s birth parents retained guardianship. Also, the relationship between the child and the family could be dissolved at any time if either party was dissatisfied, and the CAS would attempt to find the child a new placement and arrange for the child’s transportation, either to that new placement or back to New York City. And finally, the head of the family with which the child was placed was not the child’s “master” but his or her “employer.” This did not mean that the child was paid wages — although many children, especially the older boys, were in fact paid for their labors. The term was testimony to the looser nature of the placement, by comparison to indenture, and to the legal equality of the two parties. “Employer” also implied, of course, that the child was still expected to work, as a farmhand domestic, or in some other capacity. But the relationship was not meant to be a cold exchange of labor for basic necessities. From the beginning the ideal consummation of any placement was held to be the child’s incorporation into the family.

“Brace’s reinvention of indenture was, however, only one of many ways in which American society was struggling to preserve this ancient and ubiquitous institution. Indenture was nothing like an outmoded profession — blacksmithing, for example —  that could disappear without a trace in a single generation. It was an  essential component of American family and social organization. Long after the notion of bonded servitude (at least of noncriminal whites) had become intolerable in a democratic republic, long after payment only in room, board, and on-the-job training had come to seem exploitative and unnatural, and even long after the legal apparatus of indenture — the contracts, penalties, and terminology — had fallen into neglect, there were still families that needed work done they were unwilling to do themselves, and there were still parents who could not afford or did not want to raise their children to adulthood, and there were still adolescents who could not bear to remain in the homes in which they had been born. Throughout the Victorian era and well into the twentieth century aspects of indenture survived as a social safety valve, as a source of cheap labor, and, most important of all, as a set of assumptions about the obligations of family, of adults and children, and of the rich and the poor. By looking closely at these assumptions, we can see not only yet another way in which the orphan trains were inevitable, but how they could also seem natural, normal, and good.

“Little Orphan Annie has come to our house to stay
To wash the dinner dishes up
And brush the crumbs away,
To shoo the chickens off the porch
And dust the hearth and sweep,
To make the fires, bake the bread
And earn her board and keep.
— James Whitcomb Riley”

The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America
Marilyn Irvin Holt
Kindle Locations 440-488

PLACING OUT In America was given form by Charles Loring Brace. Born in 1826, Brace was the product of nineteenth-century values and of old New England traditions. His family was comfortable in its financial and social status, and Brace grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. There he was influenced by the sermons of the renowned theologian Horace Bushnell who believed in the naturalness, the “unconscious influences,” of child rearing, deemphasizing the use of threats and coercion in the shaping of a child’s character. Bushnell also may have played a role in Brace’s decision to become a minister. Graduated from Yale in 1846, Brace then attended the Yale Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary, but after completing his education, Brace was not sure that a church ministry should be his calling. He leaned toward missionary work and had his first introduction to life as a city missionary at New York City’s Five Points Mission. That experience was of great importance to Brace’s career, and he maintained ties to that institution and the Five Points district after leaving to become instrumental in founding the New York Children’s Aid Society in 1853.’

With the Aid Society as the vehicle, Brace devoted his life to working with the poor. His contributions were many and during his lifetime his tireless efforts brought him recognition as an urban reformer. Brace also received some measure of notice for his writings, whose topics ranged from his experiences among the lower classes to analyses of life in foreign lands and ancient civilizations. One theme that held a particular fascination for him was the evolution of civilization, or perhaps more accurately, the forces that led a civilization from one step of development and culture to another. Because of this interest, Brace was a student of the theories of Charles Darwin and greatly admired this man, whom he came to know. Seemingly Brace was intrigued by the implications of Social Darwinism, and, as evidenced by his Dangerous Classes of New York, believed that society could be greatly changed, if not brought down, by a growing poverty class. As Brace’s writings illustrate, he did not follow the school of evolutionists that argued for “natural” events to take their course. Brace disavowed survival of the fittest. Rather, he was convinced that society could create artificial social structures for improving the lives of the poor, and he sided with the evolutionists who argued for intervention programs that would change and benefit all society.2

Brace was convinced that just as humans had developed through an evolutionary process, their behavior could evolve, and be shaped, for the good. There was one qualifying point, however. After becoming a city missionary and working with adults at Five Points and later New York’s Blackwell’s Island, with its penitentiary and workhouse, Brace became convinced that any effort “to reform adults was well-nigh hopeless.” He therefore directed his energies to the salvation of children. His life’s work produced numerous social-welfare programs, and by 1894 the New York Children’s Aid Society supported forty-five major activities in New York City and its environs. Included among these projects were twenty-two industrial schools; six lodging houses (five for boys, one for girls); a farm school; and a children’s summer home on Long Island. These accomplishments, which gave help and support to many thousands of young lives, have been overshadowed by Brace’s best known legacy-placing out.3

Although Brace later wrote of placing out as if no other person but he or any, other country but America had used the system, it was an imported idea. Indeed, he was not the only American to have an interest in the system’s possibilities. At least two contemporaries are known to have considered placing out as an option for dealing with the urban poor. Robert M. I Iartlev, of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and John Earl Williams, of the Boston Children’s Mission, advocated the system; the association with which Hartley, was involved established the New York Juvenile Asylum, a later advocate of placing; out, and Williams was to become treasurer for the New York Children’s Aid Society. In fact, the Boston Children’s Mission, founded in 1849 and incorporated in 1864, began a modest in-state placement program under the direction of Williams in ih5o. It was Charles Loring Brace, however, who gave the concept definition in America.4

What these men idealized was a theory, for removing the urban poor to the less populated and more rural areas of the country. Abstractly, they viewed placing out as a solution. They might personalize their arguments with sad human examples, but they’ were in fact creators of a particular view of what should he done with the poor, and more often expressed concern in terms of the immediate effect of the poor on society,. Familiar with traditional forms of charitable support, they knew that from the Colonial period children and adults had been indentured and that the institutionalized were commonly used as farm laborers to earn their keep. They shared a belief in the code, “labor is elevating and idleness is sinful.” Additionally, these men seemed to have little concept of life in the expanding west. Brace’s writings point to an idealized view of rural life, not unlike that expressed in popular thought. Supposedly the unlatched door of the country home offered hospitality to friend or stranger, and class or circumstance of birth had little meaning. The rigors of frontier life evidently went unrecognized, and as importantly, these city reformers seemed blissfully ignorant of the urbanization of western cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago. No longer frontier outposts, these were by the 185os centers for commerce and transportation. Equally ignored was the far west, with its influx of emigrants, gold seekers, and entrepreneurs. Brace and his contemporaries certainly were aware of westward expansion but seemed oblivious to the growth of cities like San Francisco, which established its first orphan asylum in 1851, in part to house children orphaned on the Overland Trail.’ Instead, the focus of these men centered on eastern cities, and their romantic notions of the west remained steadfast.

Those who considered the idea of placing out were well aware of established forms for assisting the poor. Brace and his colleagues simply added a new dimension. It is quite possible that Brace shaped his ideas while on a trip to Europe in 1850. At that time he toured England’s “ragged” schools, which were based on the principle of reform rather than simple incarceration of children, a revolutionary idea for the times. No doubt Brace and contemporaries were already familiar with this work, but for Brace the experience of seeing programs in action allowed for a formulation of strategy. Also, Brace could not have failed to learn more about the British system of “transportation,” a well-known practice used as far back as the early 1700s. Under this system the country’s less desirable citizens were shipped to North America, Capetown, and Australia. Initially, transportation was a punishment whereby convicted felons were removed from their home country. By the time Brace saw the system, a new component had been added. Along with convicts, the poor, particularly women and children, were being resettled. The government transported many and gave approval to the British Ladies’ Female Emigrant Society to send more women out of country. The frontiers of the Empire needed labor, and in some cases prospective wives for male settlers. Transportation became a way, to supply that demand. Children and women were sent successfully to Canada and Australia, and at least one foray was made into the United States when London’s Home and Refuge for Destitute Children, in 1869, resettled twenty-one boys to the English colony of Wakefield, Kansas. In addition to what Brace saw in England, he encountered another form of relocation in the German states. There he observed a program established by prominent citizens, known as “The Friends in Need,” which placed vagrant city children with rural families. He also may have come into contact with the work of Pastor Andreas Brain, which did the same thing in Neukirchen, Germany. Bran’s work was inspired by his sermon text “The Christian Family-Parlour is the Best Reformatory,” a theme not unlike that taught by Bushnell.” It seems that Brace borrowed the basic idea of supplying labor while at the same time removing the destitute from high population centers, and tailored this to American society, sending thousands of children to experience lite in the West.

Kindle Locations 501-508

The plea for Christian charity went hand in hand with a warning. Brace’s writings, whether a society circular or his notable book, The Dangerous Classes o, f New York, paired charity with the caution that these children, left unattended, would some day threaten society. “The class increases; immigration is pouring in its multitude of poor foreigners, who leave these young outcasts everywhere in our midst,” warned Brace. “These boys and girls,” he wrote, “will soon form the great lower class of our city [and] if unreclaimed, [will] poison society all around them.” The solution was “a means of draining the city of this class.” Brace certainly had real concern for what happened to the children of the city, but his writings went beyond a simple appeal for help. Harking back to what Brace believed about social evolution, there was a desire to impose control over the possible ramifications of a growing underclass. Thus, Brace asked that support, financial and spiritual, he given the Aid Society to “drain” the potential threat. Meanwhile, he began the process “by communicating with farmers, manufacturers, or families who may have need of [child] employment.”‘

Kindle Locations 781-790

The ethnic backgrounds of those placed out reflect in part Brace’s personal prejudices. Brace believed that American and West European cultures were superior and that children from those backgrounds were more acceptable to receiving communities and families. When writing of children who came to the society for help, Brace gave approving descriptions of children such as the “yellow-haired German boy … with such honest blue eyes” and the “sharp, intelligient Yankee lad [who] comes in to do what he has never done before-ask for assistance.” To the Mediterranean and East European born, Brace was less receptive, particularly as he feuded with the Catholic community over placing out and as he believed Eastern and Southern European groups less advanced and civilized. In fact, when there were instances of Italian children being placed, the Aid Society pointedly described their earlier conditions, proving, at least to some minds, that this group was inferior: “Eugene M-, eleven years old, [was] found locked in a vacant room in a wretched tenement, deserted by his Italian parents.” After a stay at New York’s Home for the Friendless, the boy was sent to a “superior home” in Kansas .41

To a degree, Brace’s prejudices were those of American society. Robert Hartley, writing for the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (A I C P), expressed much the same thoughts, particularly against Catholics, and despaired of the “accumulated refuse” that “had landed in New York.” Reformer Jacob Riis did not share such sentiments, but he certainly observed them. Writing of New York’s Fresh Air Movement, Riis noted that rural communities were not willing to open their doors to just anyone:

Kindle Locations 840-843

One historian writing on childhood in America has concluded that the Civil War served as a dividing line in not only the nation’s history but for children’s history. A loss of a national innocence led adults in their desire for a less troubled time to project an aura of virtue around childhood. Children were seen as the only hope left to the country.47 This analysis provides a psychological framework in which to consider the continuation of placing out during and after the war. The innocence of children was to be preserved, and their protection became a national mission.

Kindle Locations 1011-1019

It may be argued that the n i c P, Brace, and other reformers cloaked their fears of the lower classes, especially the foreign element, in the guise of charity. Certainly by standards of the late twentieth century their attitudes smack of bigotry and intimidation, but the times in which they lived must be considered, not to excuse, but to explain a viewpoint that allowed heartfelt concern for the worthy poor to coexist with apprehensions for what immigrants and a growing American-born class of poor might bring. This was the time of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party, a period of America for Americans sentiment, and a time when educated men and women still spoke of Native Americans as “savages” and debated the question of blacks as a subhuman species. If Hartley, Brace, and their contemporaries are today to be interpreted as racists, that label must be applied to much of society. Just as city missionaries labored among the immigrants, missionaries among the Indians attempted to impose the white work ethic and standards of conduct, and those sympathetic to the plight of blacks, including the strongest abolitionists, often viewed that group as children who could not progress without white guidance. These attitudes did not diminish real compassion. In fact, for the times, men like Brace and Hartley were viewed as forward thinking. They, at least, were willing to tackle the needs of the destitute and downtrodden, despite rhetoric that today seems to curse the very people they were sworn to help.

Kindle Locations 1589-1601

Despite the apparent increase in legal adoptions during the latter years of the system, implicit in debates over placing out was the question of the legal status of those removed from the cities. If placing-out institutions did not demand indenture, adoption, or agreements with families to serve as foster care parents, who accepted legal responsibility for a minor? Certainly, there were those who were indentured and had the contracts as proof of their status within the home. There were those who had been legally adopted, giving them the benefits of family name and rights of inheritance. It is apparent now, as then, however, that many of the placed out, and perhaps the majority, existed in a kind of no man’s land of legal status. The institution to release the child for resettlement may have verbalized the rights of “prior” guardianship, but most orphanages or asylums that worked with placing-out organizations, expressed little interest in the outcome. For those placed out and not indentured or legally adopted, it was a state of limbo. It is clear in placing-out accounts that many, unsure of their place, assigned themselves a status. Many twentieth-century accounts state that the child was adopted into the family or treated as one of the family’s own, but being treated as part of the family and having a record of adoption are quite separate things. It is probable that many receiving families were uneducated or unaware of the niceties of the law and therefore never considered or understood either option. When Peter Manachisa, for example, was placed by the Sisters of Charity in a Louisiana home, his new parents signed indenture, not adoption, papers; Peter was given his new family’s name and he later learned that his parents, of limited education, had believed they were adopting him.33 For a growing number of reformers and officials of state boards of charity and institutions, the rather cavalier attitude of placing agencies in ignoring the legal implications of status may have represented just another reason for the system’s abolition.

Kindle Locations 1990-2002

In this new world of educated social workers and theorists and progressive thought, indenture, one of the long-held social options for placement came under scrutiny and was found lacking. Indenture of children and adults was deeply rooted in American life. It routinely served as a means of reducing the inmate populations of institutions and as a way for parents to provide their children with board and the means of learning a trade. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, there were rumblings. The superintendents of the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Atchison, Kansas, had seen heated debate when state approval was given for indenture, and they were not unique in suffering, as one writer put it, the “wrath of the parents and relatives of [indentured] children, and of the politicians who are, or think they are interested in them.” One of those politicians was Governor Arthur Capper of Kansas, who received this viewpoint from a private citizen: “In fact it is my opinion that both boys and girls in this Institution [Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home] if permitted to remain where they are until they can acquire the training and education in household and other vocations will be able to go out and take employment independently and without being indentured to their employers.””

Local complaints supported a growing national concern. In 1927, twelve states-Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, and Nebraska-still allowed indenture of their institutional charges and of children who had been turned over to county authorities or poor farms. These states were pushed into the national limelight when calls were made for them to abolish the practice for “more intelligient child care services.” Pressure increased when the national Children’s Bureau published its study of indenture in Wisconsin. That study reflected some of the same criticisms made of placing out, citing children who were “worked virtually as unpaid servants in households and on farms, often deprived of schooling and . . . sometimes cruelly treated.” The Children’s Bureau demanded abolition of all indenture, calling it “a relic of sixteenth-century England.” 29 If indenture, a much older practice than placing out, could be cited for its antiquarian principles, then surely placing practices that sometimes included indenture could be called into question.

State Violence For Hire And Profit

Nicole Flatow, in a recent Think Progress article, brings up the topic of recent developments in police power. Police officers increasingly moonlight for private corporations, a practice that had previously been banned in some places.

This is put into new light with the emphasis on how pervasive has become police brutality. Most Americans didn’t realize how little oversight exists. The police are in the position of policing themselves, which generally means that the problems of the system get ignored by those in authority and hidden from public view.

There is no official data collection in place to even determine how many Americans are regularly killed by cops. The federal government claims to not know and demonstrates no concern about this self-proclaimed ignorance. I find that disturbing to the extreme, especially in an age when the government is keeping massive data on almost everyone and everything. I’m not sure if I’m bothered more by the fact that the government is probably lying about what it knows or that it might actually not know and not want to know.

“Individuals employed as police officers typically carry their police powers 24 hours a day in their jurisdiction, whether they’re on the job or not. That includes the power to arrest, use force, and the power to shoot. But they are explicitly hired to use this power “off duty” when private firms contract with them to perform security work.”

It is a strange world where public officials with the full authority of the state can moonlight as security for corporations. It demonstrates the thin line between state and corporate power. The revolving door between big gov and big biz isn’t just about politicians, regulators, lobbyists, and corporate management. State violence is for hire and that should concern us.

“When the St. Louis officer stopped Myers on the street, he was working a second job for a security company. The vehicle in which he followed Myers was marked with the name of the company, not a police car. And scenarios like this are increasingly common. Police officers are desirable for private security jobs precisely because they carry their training and police power wherever they go, and many police departments encourage their cops to take on secondary employment, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor David Klinger explained to ThinkProgress.

“At least in most major cities and counties, officers are typically required to have those jobs cleared with the police department, which may set its own rules about how and when cops can take second jobs. This means police departments consent to have officers acting as law enforcement officials in these other capacities, Klinger said.

“In some cities, police departments even set up a database in coordination with local employers that officers can access if they want to work extra hours.”

This type of thing brings back the historical memory of the bad ol’ days of the Gilded Age. The labor movement and other movements fought against often violent force being used to oppress dissent and protest. This was part of a broader use of force. At one time, private security companies employed more field agents than did the federal and local governments.

These and other companies not unusually worked closely with the government officials. It went hand in hand with political corruption and crony capitalism. It was also an even more violent time when public transparency and accountability was almost nonexistent. We should worry about our society drifting back to old kinds of oppression.

This is even more distressing as the America has increasingly become a police state and a militarized empire. The violence used toward other countries always gets turned back against the citizenry at home. This is inevitable, but patriotic propaganda has blinded Americans for far too long. It is the same difference if our military guarantees easy access to cheap foreign oil for big biz or police departments guarantee state violence for big biz back in the states.

Oppression and violence is the same no matter where it happens. There is either freedom for all or freedom for none, a simple truth that can never be repeated too often.

“While officers may be subject to the same criminal rights and liabilities regardless of who they’re working for, firms may be subject to different rules and different levels of civil liability. As the New York Times explained in a 1989 report on the phenomenon, “These private forces .. are not bound by all of the regulations and civil liberties concerns imposed on the public police to protect both complainants and defendants. Yet by hiring off-duty city police, these companies gain access to the power of arrest and the mantle of official authority that other agencies lack.””

Reform happened over this past century. It happened for good reason.

“When officers are working second jobs for which they have gotten approval from their departments, they typically still wear their police uniform, as the St. Louis officer was when he shot Myers. This means that individuals perceive these cops as being on duty even though they are working private jobs. In many instances they are. At one time, New York City didn’t like the look of this perception, and prohibited officers from wearing their uniforms while working in the private sector, and also banned them from working in their own precinct. In fact, until the 1960s, New York City banned “moonlighting” altogether. But the practice of officers taking second security jobs is now exceedingly common. And today, NYPD oversees the “Paid for Hire” program.”

It is long past time for a new era of reform. Or failing that, what other option is left in the fight for freedom and justice?

Real Threats

“If you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9/11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.”
~Gloria Steinem, as quoted by Corey Robin in Violence Against Women and the Politics of Fear

“Americans are a whopping 29 times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than they are of a terrorist attack. It’s impossible to say for certain how many people are killed by cops each year, but the best estimate is anywhere from 600-1,000. Contrast that with the 30 police officers who were killed in 2013.”
~Caleb G., Why American Police Departments Are More Of A Threat Than ISIS

People are notoriously bad about assessing personal risk.

I’m an American. Like most Americans, I’ve spent my whole life in this country and don’t travel outside the country. The genuine threats that should concern me are in America. I’m more likely to be killed by my own government than by a foreign government. I’m more likely to be killed by a Christian than by a Muslim.

Also, I’m “white”. Like most whites, I live in a white neighborhood in a white community. I don’t spend much time with non-whites. As the data shows, whites such as myself are more likely to experience crimes and violence from other whites. Blacks have more to fear from whites in this country than vice versa, since most of the police, judges, etc are white.

Being a white American, I’m way safer than the vast majority of people in the world. I have little to realistically worry about. I have no reason to fear terrorism, ebola, or much else.

I have more reason to fear being run over by a car or having a heart attack. Why doesn’t the news obsess over the things that actually will kill me?

McDonald’s unhealthy food is one of the greatest threats to my life in the immediate vicinity. Why doesn’t the government spend millions of dollars to fight that menace?

My rights are more likely to be taken away by the ruling elite of my own country. Why don’t we Americans fight that enemy?

Just How Stupid is the Intellectual Elite?

I came across an article recently, as linked to in a comment, that is about a topic of great interest to me: ignorance. The article piqued my curiosity because it was a thoughtful analysis of various data and examples, including an insightful view of how geographic location plays into how we prioritize (or not) knowledge of the larger world.

The author begins by discussing Rick Shenkman’s 2008 book, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter. It’s a provocative title meant to catch one’s attention. It probably was the publisher, rather than the author, that chose the title. I decided to get the book and have since read it.

I was disappointed and underwhelmed. The book ended up being too much like the title. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the negative reviews. My curiosity got the better of me and my curiosity remains unsated. Shenkman touches on many worthy issues, but never takes it very far. It felt more like a magazine opinion piece stretched out into a book.

He complains about the stupidity of the American public, going on and on about the failure of “The People”, both in actuality and as a concept. He almost goes so far as to blame democracy itself, with an argument that questions whether The People are worthy of democracy. His discussion is a bit more complex than that, but it does come off as expressing intellectual snobbery and class disconnect. I didn’t get the feeling that he actually knew what he was talking about. His knowledge seemed narrow, and his understanding of many issues, from democracy to liberalism, seemed superficial.

I came to the conclusion that the author is a part of the problem. He is a member of the clueless intellectual elite. He wants to be a public intellectual and so presents himself as an expert, in his role as a professional historian, writer, and tv talking head. Maybe this book wasn’t his best work… I don’t know, but I was unimpressed. His being a historian, I’d have expected more depth to his analysis. He demonstrated even less knowledge about demographics and social science.

I’ve read some great books these past years. There are several that cover the study of ignorance, agnotology, a topic that has often come up in relation to racial prejudice and biases. Another more recent book I’ve looked at focuses the idea and the history of “The People” in great detail. Shenkman’s book doesn’t hold a candle to any of these.

There is nothing I consider more important than the public intellectual. The failure of democracy is directly connected to the failure of public intellectuals, which isn’t identical to just the intellectual elite, but the broader intellectual engagement across class lines. A good example of a newer work by a working class public intellectual is Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado. I’m a big fan of the working class public intellectual, a role that goes back to the revolutionary generation, involving such great writers as Thomas Paine. Even so, I also appreciate the insight that sometimes comes out of academia, such as Michelle Alexander.

There is an important difference between academics like Shenkman and Alexander. He presents his argument as coming from on high, looking down upon “The People”. You never get the sense that he is entirely including himself as part of the general public. He is self-consciously an intellectual elite. As for Alexander, instead of complaining about the disenfranchized and disadvantaged, she seeks to speak for them and to offer genuine sympathetic understanding. Even in terms of pure scholarship, Shenkman just isn’t playing on the same level. Alexander backs her opinions with immense data, something Shenkman doesn’t do nearly as well. What he offers seems mostly to be cherrypicked factoids lacking much in the way of larger context and probing insight.

I almost feel bad for being so critical. Ignorance is a serious problem. For certain, I’m not dismissing the concern. I just don’t think the challenge was well met by Shenkman. If anything, he didn’t take his project seriously enough. This is an issue that shakes our society to its foundation, whether or not we have and are capable of having a functioning democracy.

What relevance does “The People” even have in a supposed representative democracy when it isn’t clear anyone is actually representing them? Who is there to give voice to the voiceless, to offer sympathetic understanding to those lost in a system of enforced ignorance? What does it mean to be a public intellectual at a time when the intellectual elite often seem more clueless than the uneducated and miseducated masses?

Nature’s God and American Radicalism

The following is an excerpt from a book I’m reading, Nature’s God. I’m not familiar with the author, Matthew Stewart, but maybe I should make myself more familiar with his writings.

The book fills in some holes in my knowledge of the revolutionary era. I know Thomas Paine well. I’m ever so slightly familiar with Ethan Allen. But I do believe Thomas Young is entirely new to me. I don’t recall having come across his name previously.

All three of these, along with some others, are the real founders.

They weren’t born into wealth, privilege, and education. They had to struggle their whole lives and they all put everything on the line, both their lives and their livelihoods, even their hard-earned reputations, all sacrificed for what they believed. They had a lot less to lose and a lot more to gain by challenging the status quo, but it wasn’t just desperate poverty that compelled them to seek something better. They felt genuine conviction for what others thought impossible or dangerous.

They were lovers of freedom and democracy, defenders of the common man and the common good. They were the rabblerousers and instigators, the radicals and revolutionaries. They lit the fire under the asses of the elite and of the contented, of the likes of Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington. Without these working class troublemakers, there would have been no American Revolution, no Declaration of Independence, and no new country.

The least we should do is honor their memory. Better yet, we could take seriously the values that motivated them and the ideals that inspired them.

* * * *

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic
By Matthew Stewart
pp. 16-23

HOW DO WE DECIDE who deserves a place in history? Generations of devoted American history buffs have spent countless hours reading and writing long books about the American Revolution without ever having come across the name of Dr. Thomas Young. Yet Young was, among other things, one of the people who brought us the original Tea Party. It was he who stood before the assembled people of Boston on November 29, 1773, and first articulated the transparently illegal proposition that the only way to get rid of the East India Company’s loathsome cargo was to throw it into the harbor. 29 It was he who, on the evening of December 16, 1773, kept a crowd of thousands at the Old South Church shouting and clapping with a satirical speech on “the ill effects of tea on the constitution” while his best friends, dressed as Mohawks, quietly set off to turn the Boston harbor into a briny teapot. 30 And it turns out that kicking off the event that many years later came to be called the Boston Tea Party was not the most consequential of Thomas Young’s many unsung contributions to the founding of the American Republic.

If it is true, as John Adams famously observed, that the American Revolution took place “in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775 . . . before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington,” 31 then many of America’s most celebrated founders should properly be counted as consequences rather than causes of the course of events. In his diary Adams himself described the Tea Party on the morning after as “an Epocha in History,” 32 and yet he wrote about it as an enthusiastic bystander, not a participant, much less an instigator. George Washington seems to have had few serious doubts about America’s place in the Empire until the summer of 1774, when the ordeals of the people of Massachusetts forced him to reappraise the intentions of the King and his ministers. 33 Benjamin Franklin tarried in London until 1775, nurturing his dream of retiring to the life of a grand pooh-bah of the British Empire. Thomas Jefferson, born in 1743, “knew more of the eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites than he did of what was passing in Boston,” groused the envious Adams in later life. 34 James Madison (b. 1751) and Alexander Hamilton (b. 1755 or 1757) were mere schoolboys when the hard work of changing the American mind began. As America’s busy hagiographers have been keen to observe, the men now exalted as America’s founders and framers, taken on the whole, were revolutionaries by circumstance rather than by disposition. They were ambitious, upstanding citizens, generally happy with their lot in life, who at a singular moment in history were presented with a fateful choice.

Thomas Young, on the other hand, was no accidental revolutionary. He was present at the creation of the movement, and he never left. He was unhappy, brilliant, resentful, and heroically optimistic. He was a plotter, a conspirer, an ideologue, and a provocateur. He did not disguise his belief that in order to make a revolution you have to break some eggs. He vowed always— in his own words—“ to fight the good fight.” 35 Above all, he was a man with a message, so convinced of the merit of the ideas in his head that keeping his mouth shut would have seemed like a crime against humanity.

“He published his first screed championing the natural rights of Englishmen against the injustices of imperial rule in 1764, when he was thirty-three. In the following year, he found himself at the head of a mob on the streets of Albany, leading the protests against the Stamp Act. He rose to the leadership of the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty and soon made contact with like-minded activists across the colonies. In 1766, he moved to Boston to join with the radical faction gathering around James Otis and Samuel Adams. As Boston struggled with occupation, he rapidly established himself as the most militant voice in the local newspapers and the go-to man whenever a rabble stood in need of rousing. Governor Thomas Hutchinson regularly named him as one of the four most dangerous men in town. In 1772, together with his fellow radicals, he founded the Boston Committee of Correspondence— a momentous breakthrough in propaganda technology that served to spread both rebellious sentiments and democratic practices throughout Massachusetts and the rest of the colonies. 36

“What an engine!” John Adams exclaimed in 1815. “The history of the United States can never be written” until one had inquired into the activities of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, he said. “France imitated it, and produced a revolution. England and Scotland were upon the point of imitating it, in order to produce another revolution . . . The history of the past thirty years is a sufficient commentary upon it.” 37 And Young’s handwriting was all over the project—quite literally. In the files now held in the archives of the New York Public Library, his distinctive script appears on dozens of unsigned pages of Committee papers— more than any other Committee member— including on parts of a draft of the 1772 declaration of the “rights of the colonists” that John Adams later suggested was one of the models for the Declaration of Independence. 38

“In 1775, Young tumbled into Philadelphia, the scene of his greatest contributions to the revolutionary cause, and instantly fell in with Thomas Paine. In his political polemics, Young anticipated many of the ideas and even some of the language that figured in the pamphlet that changed the world: Paine’s Common Sense of January 1776. 39 At the time, the government of Pennsylvania was mostly under the control of conservatives who favored reconciliation with Great Britain. In the decisive month of May 1776, Young, Paine, and a handful of their fellow radicals engineered a Bolshevik-style coup d’état that replaced the legitimately elected government of the province with a pro-independence faction. The new government of the colony in turn tilted the balance of the Continental Congress in favor of permanent separation from Britain, and within six weeks the Congress declared independence.

“In the summer and fall of 1776, Young and his comrades organized a convention and produced a constitution for the newly independent state of Pennsylvania. It was “the most radically democratic organic law in the world at the time of its creation,” one historian has observed. 40 It vested almost all power in a popularly elected legislature, stipulated a variety of measures to ensure that their representatives would remain answerable to the people, and included a declaration of rights along the lines of those that are familiar to us now from the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Franklin handed out copies in Paris, and the people of the salons assumed that such a revolutionary document could only have been the great scientist’s work. “In truth,” John Adams sniffed, it was Young, Paine, and a pair of their radical friends “who were the authors of it.” 41 And when Young finished with the job in Philadelphia, he sent a copy along with an open letter to the people of Vermont— a state whose name Young himself coined from the French for “Green Mountain” 42 —where, with some further modification, it served as the basis for the first state constitution to ban slavery.

“It is the unapologetically democratic character of Young’s revolution that makes him seem such a striking figure today. By birth, by reputation, and by conviction, Young was a man of the people. In Boston he saved his highest praise for the “common tradesmen” who at town meetings displayed “the wisdom and eloquence of Athenian Senators.” 43 As a member of the Boston Committee, he demanded the overthrow of all the governments that put “the most powerful men in every county and every town” over “the common people.” 44 In Philadelphia he invited the hatred of the ruling classes with his bold proposal that all men should be entitled to vote without regard to their property qualifications. As early as 1770, he had predicted, “A very little time will show you Great Britain reduced into absolute monarchy, or exalted into a Republic!” 45 In the years preceding the Revolutionary War, it should not be forgotten, only a tiny fraction of the American colonials desired independence, and only a much smaller fraction thought in terms of a democratic transformation of society and government. Young belonged to a numerically insignificant sliver who, long before their fellow colonials dared to imagine the possibility of a break from the mother country, dreamed of independence as a means to launch a democratic revolution that would sweep through the British Empire and then around the world.

[ . . . ]

Yet Thomas Young remains, in the words of historian David Freeman Hawke, “unquestionably the most unwritten about man of distinction of the American Revolution.” Hawke made that claim in 1970— and it is still mostly true. Apart from a few worthy pieces of scholarship, the “dirty little screw” of the American Revolution continues to languish on the shop floor of history. 50

“Part of the problem is that Young died too early for his own good, succumbing in July 1777 to a sudden fever contracted while serving as a surgeon for the Continental Army. Having done his best work on the streets and in the backrooms of revolutionary committees, he left no one with any great stake in fighting for his posthumous reputation— no one, that is, except the ever-loyal Ethan Allen, who was soon busy immolating his own legacy.

The biggest obstacle that stood between Thomas Young and the history books, however, was his unabashed deism. In a fistful of bracing newspaper columns, not-so-anonymous pamphlets, and private letters, Young left few of his contemporaries in doubt about the extreme heterodoxy of his religious views. “Could we raise up the spirit of one of the murderers of St. Stephen, to tell us what a figure Paul cut, when he breathed out threatening and slaughter against his Savior, then we might form an idea of Dr. Y—— g,” said one outraged Tory. 51 “Suffice it to say, this man stands accused of rebellion, not only against his Sovereign, but against his God.”

“Young’s fellow citizens regularly accused him of being “a man of no morals,” an “infamous character,” and, of course, an “infidel.” 52 And Young— this is perhaps the most unusual thing about him— regularly responded with daring public confessions in which he let it be known, in so many words, that if with such terms his antagonists meant to identify him a deist, then they were right. Rushing to his defense after one assault on the doctor’s unacceptable creed, his fellow members of the Boston Committee of Correspondence marveled that on his journey through life he had accumulated many friends of high character, notwithstanding the fact that “uniform throughout, he appears in all places to have declared his sentiments on all subjects, natural, civil, and religious.” The thing about Young, everyone agreed, was that he could not keep his mouth shut. When he died, the nation he served found it convenient to forget such a troublesome individual. Let him now face the consequences in the afterlife whose reality he so blasphemously denied, they said, and they moved on.

“Young’s philosophical oeuvre is not large or systematic, and it is sometimes obtuse, as one might expect from a self-taught medicine man moonlighting as a global revolutionary. Yet its neglect turns out to be the most damaging of the many unfortunate consequences of his omission from the history books. In the uncomfortably personal confessions he committed to print, Young tells us what it was like to come of age as a deist in prerevolutionary America. In his sundry philosophical treatises, he articulates a form of deism that is substantially more radical than that which has traditionally figured in the stories America tells itself about its philosophical heritage. And he makes clear that, at least in his own mind, this radical philosophy was the axis on which the Revolution turned. For him, the project to free the American people from the yoke of King George was part of a grander project to liberate the world from the ghostly tyranny of supernatural religion.

 

Southern Sundown Neighborhoods

I was thinking about sundown towns lately. They are rare in the Deep South. The reason being that poor blacks in the past lived near the wealthy people they worked for. That is still the case today.

Instead of sundown towns, the Deep South has sundown neighborhoods. A poor all black neighborhood will be next to a wealthy all white neighborhood.

I remember one clear example of this in Columbia, South Carolina. I would take Gervais St. downtown from where I lived in Forest Acres. In one stretch of the road, there was a clear divide. On one side, were poor neighborhoods and some of the so-called Projects, the government housing. A white person like me would unlikely ever purposely drive into that area. But on the other side of the road was an expensive neighborhood of beautiful large houses. No black person (or even poor white person) would venture into that neighborhood, unless they had business to do there, especially not at night.

The divide was stark. There were no walls to separate the two sides of the road. Any poor black person theoretically could cross the street and go into that wealthy white neighborhood, and vice versa, but I doubt it happened very often. That stretch of road and the neighborhoods on either side probably were heavily policed. That road was a well-maintained border, as if it were a wall.

I drove down that street on a regular basis. I stopped thinking about how strange it was. It just became part of the background. If you lived there your whole life, you’d probably never give it any thought at all. It is similar to how it never occurs to many white people in the North how the town they live in ended up all white or that it ever had a black population.

What interests me is what is not thought about and so not seen.