Cranky Conservatives and Hypocritical Liberals

I’ve slowly been adjusting my view on many topics. The most obvious example has to do with politics and political labels, specifically that of conservatism and liberalism.

I’ve written about this for years, because it endlessly fascinates me and confounds my thinking. Mainstream political labels, at first glance, seem to be simple and straightforward. Those who identify with these labels do tend to portray themselves in standard ways. However, if you look deeper, you  begin to realize there is more going on. I’ve explored many other angles previously, and so let me explore a new angle.

The other day, I read a dual review by Kenan Malik. The two books he reviewed were Julian Baggini’s Freedom Regained and John Gray’s The Soul of the Marionette. The topic uniting the two was that of free will.

I’m not familiar with Baggini’s writings and politics, but from the review I got the sense that he is probably more or less a mainstream progressive liberal. His general approach in defending free will, in relation to the Enlightenment project, seems fairly typical for a well-educated liberal. That is fine, as far as it goes. However, what I’d love to see is Baggini (or Malik) attempt to take on something like Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Then such a writer would have my full attention.

My own view is that of agnostic. I’m agnostic about so much in life, from God to free will. Such issues are of the same quality, whether overtly theological or not. They are about beliefs, not scientific knowledge, and so I feel wary about those who seek to politicize such debates.

Both Baggini and Gray are doing that very thing (and so is Malik in his review). Their beliefs about free will are inseparable from their beliefs about human progress and hence of political progressivism. I’m not sure where that leaves my agnosticism, but I certainly don’t find myself neatly taking sides.

As far as I’m concerned, it is a pointless debate, as neither side can prove they are right and that the other is wrong. Free will can’t be formulated as a falsifiable scientific hypothesis and so can’t ever be tested. Beliefs are just beliefs, even when they are based on powerful personal experiences of perceived reality. I have nothing against beliefs in and of themselves, but they should be kept in proper context.

Nonetheless, I found John Gray’s view more interesting, because his mind seems more interesting. A proper label for him might be that of a cranky conservative, having shifted from Thatcherite neoliberal to a captialism-criticizing paleoconservative. What makes his view worthy of serious consideration is that he is a wide reader and a deep thinker, which is probably what allowed his views to shift to such an extent.

I call Gray a cranky conservative as a term of endearment. He is what I think of as the prototypical INTJ (MBTI type: Introverted, iNtuition, Thinking, Judging). In my experience, INTJs have minds that spiral inwards toward what to others seem like a mysterious sensibility or odd perspective. They love the idiosyncratic and obscure, which is what can make them interesting, at the same as it can make them perplexing or even frustrating and irritating.

INTJs have ever curious minds, but it is of a particular variety. It’s definitely not that of a linear-focused, analytical intellect (some readers complain that many of Gray’s books feel like a jumble of thoughts with important issues overlooked and useful connections not made). This kind of curiosity is also not of the endlessly expansive and exploratory tendency, as seen with the strongly extraverted intuition types.

This is demonstrated by Gray’s interest in Philip K. Dick, of which he writes in great detail in The Soul of the Marionette. Both are intuition types, but of opposing attitudes (introverted versus extraverted). Gray, in his recent book, sees PKD as having in a sense failed because his attitude of intuition just goes on and on, ever searching for what can’t be found. Gray rightly notes that this made PKD crazy at times. Still, that partly misses the beauty of PKD’s view.

Nonetheless, the fact that Gray takes PKD seriously at all is what I appreciate. I doubt I’ll ever see the likes of Malik and Baggini writing in detail about PKD, although the latter does one time briefly mention him in Freedom Regained but only then in reference to a movie based on a PKD story (I discovered this one instance by doing a search on Google Books). For this reason, I’m reading Gray’s book and not a book by either of those others, despite my being politically closer to them.

I first heard of John Gray many years ago. I never gave him much thought until I read Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind. Robin has a chapter of that book where he discusses Gray as a reactionary conservative, similar to that of Edmund Burke, both holding positions as partial outsiders (although not too far outside, for otherwise the political right would never pay them any attention). Robin makes the argument that this is the basis of all conservatism, but I think distinctions need to be made. Even Robin sees Gray as being a unique figure on the right, as he explained elsewhere:

“There is a large discourse on the left of intellectuals and activists trying to come to terms with their erstwhile support for Stalinism and revolutionary tyranny. Indeed, a great deal of 20th century intellectual history is driven by that discourse, with entire literatures devoted to the Webbs in Russia, Sontag in Vietnam, Foucault in Iran. Yet where is the comparable discourse on the right of intellectuals coming to terms with their (or their heroes’) support for Pinochet, Salazar, and the like? With the exception of John Gray, I can’t think of a single apostate from—or adherent of—the right who’s engaged in such a project of self-examination: not breast-beating or mea culpas, but really looking at the relationship between their ideas and their actions. Now there’s a road to serfdom that’s yet to be mapped.”

He is, as I put it, a cranky conservative. He is a pessimist and highly critical at that. He isn’t going to be easy on even former allies. If anything, he is likely to be more harsh toward those with whom he once shared a view. He seems to place a high standard on both himself and others, and based on that he points out failures and hypocrisy.

I respect that more than I respect, for example, what I too often see among mainstream liberals. I particularly have in mind what I call conservative(-minded) liberals. I’ve become ever more aware of, to put it lightly, the inconsistency of so many liberals. Behind the facade of rhetoric, there is so much of the biases and prejudices as found everywhere else in our society. Simply put, I’d vote for John Gray before I’d vote for Hilary Clinton, for at least he criticizes some of the worst aspects of capitalism, not to mention neo-imperialist war-mongering.

There are surprising number of liberals who are, for example, highly race and class conscious. They are willing to talk about helping the unfortunate, as long as it doesn’t personally effect them. In their own lives, they’d rather not interact with minorities and poor people, and they will sometimes complain about such people behind closed doors. It’s one thing to support welfare or affirmative action for the underprivileged, but it is a whole other thing to have one of those perceived low class people living in your neighborhood or community.

There is at least an upfront honesty with a cranky conservative. As for free will, someone’s personal beliefs are the least of my concern.

Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond

I came across two books: Beyond Nature and Culture by Philippe Descola and How Forests Think by Eduardo Kohn. They are about identity, experience, and perception. Both authors consider anthropological examples, through which they explore the relationship between the human and the world.

These books connect to much else I’ve been reading as of late. One of my long term projects is a series of posts about radical change, in relation to such things as Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism, the Axial Age, and the Enlightenment Age. I’m still thinking about it and not prepared to write anything in detail, but for the moment I wanted to throw out a few thoughts.

We have a hard time seeing outside of the world we are raised in. It is our entire reality. Perusing the books mentioned above reminded me of how true that is. An animistic worldview isn’t just a belief system, in the way we today talk about religion. Animism forms an entire reality, and to us modern Westerners it is a foreign reality.

Within animism, it isn’t just that the world is alive. It is also quite fluid. What is human and not isn’t absolutely demarcated, nor is the subjective and objective. Other distinctions also become less clear and certain: religion and society, economics and politics, individual and group.

One thing easily becomes something else. Perspective and its shifting defines everything. The world is alive and aware, overflowing with thinking beings, every mind a different mentality. The larger world is a society of beings and minds, spirits and gods, each species a potential community, each category of things a potential pattern of forces. This requires a careful attitude in relating to and negotiating with the others in the world, a constant concern and worry about breaking an agreement or trespassing boundaries (boundaries, by the way, that are social rather than conceptual).

This animistic world is a cacophany of voices, for those who hear them. These aren’t metaphorical notions. These people aren’t pretending to believe in what we scientific-minded moderns ‘know’ to be ridiculous. Still, it is hard for us to accept their reality for what it is.

Those who live in this animistic worldview typically are hunter-gatherers, although I don’t know if it is limited to them. In Jaynes’ theory, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle preceded the early civilizations where bicameralism developed. However, hunter-gatherers today aren’t the same as hunter-gatherers from before all of civilization. I doubt there is a single hunter-gatherer tribe that survived into the modern world without ever having been impacted by the bicameral and post-bicameral societies that surrounded them, whether through direct or indirect influences. Anthropologists have no firsthand observations of and knowledge about supposedly bicameral societies, much less pre-bicameral societies.

A while back, I discussed bicameralism with an anthropologist, Cris Campbell (see: All Mixed Up: Julian Jaynes). It was surprising that he didn’t understand this basic point. Even when others explained it to him, he wouldn’t concede its significance and relevance.

I got the sense that Campbell was too caught up in Jaynes’ language that he couldn’t fully take seriously the hypothesis itself and the evidence its based upon or something like that. He did admit that insights were to be found within Jaynes’ writings (see: here and here; not that he goes into great detail). Plus, he certainly has an understanding of and appreciation for animism, in which he mentions Philippe Descola (his blog in general is worth checking out).

For some reason, he believed some tribal people had escaped all influences and therefore should show evidence for Jaynes’ theory, despite the fact that Jayne’s theory never was about hunter-gatherer tribal people in the first place. Campbell apparently couldn’t take the theory on its own terms, even to criticize it on its own terms, which isn’t to say there aren’t genuine criticisms to be made (and already have been made by others, including those who have developed similar theories; e.g., Iain McGilchrist in his book, The Master and the Emissary–a book I mentioned to Campbell and received no response).

I don’t think it was ever made clear exactly what was the basis of Campbell’s doubt toward Jayne’s theory, besides the language issue. The discussion, in the comments section, simply ended without resolution. It seems he just gave up on the issue, which maybe just means he is giving it more thought. I hope that is the case, as I suspect he could delve much deeper into the topic.

Anyway, I wonder why there is such difficulty in taking Jaynes seriously (whether or not that is the case with Cris Campbell, for I admit that I’m likely not be giving him enough credit). My guess is that it has to do with how, to most people, such a proposed worldview appears alien and incomprehensible. How could people live without an interior sense of self, a society entirely dominated by external voices and social experience? It seems patently absurd, for someone who claimed such things today would be labeled as insane and probably institutionalized. And it seems beyond improbable that a society of people like this could actually be functional, especially to the extent of building great civilizations and massive monuments.

To take Jaynes seriously means to consider the immense potential within humans. This is what leads us down radical lines of thought and this is what causes many to pull back from that ledge. However, if we can anthropologically recognize what to us seems like the strange worldviews of hunter-gatherers, it is a small step to consider that the bicameral mind or something akin to it might have been a real possibility for ancient humanity.

Governing Under the Influence

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the Common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the Common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things that we do not own,
But leaves the Lords and Ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the Common,
And geese will still a Common lack
‘Til they go and steal it back.
~ English folk poem, circa 1764

I never heard that the Creator opened an estate office to issue title deeds to land…. Every proprietor of land owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.
~ Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice

Those are quoted from “The Rule of Property,” a pamphlet by Karen Coulter (in relation to the second quote, check out the proposal of a citizen’s dividend). I picked up a copy from a symposium I just got back from, although the text can be found online as well.

The symposium was Governing Under the Influence. It was held at the local Iowa City Public Library and organized by the Des Moines chapter of the AFSC and East Central Iowa Move To Amend, Iowa City Climate Advocates and Johnson County Greens.

As you can see, it was a decent selection of progressive and leftist politics, although nothing too radical, at least by my standards. Nothing was presented that would likely have been offensive to the average liberal. Still, the presenters were radical enough to challenge the status quo from different perspectives.

The first presentation I went to was “The School to Prison Pipeline.” It was given by Diana Henry, a local teacher who has lived in the area for at least a couple of decades. I noticed that she was the only black person in the room, among mostly older whites. I hadn’t considered beforehand what would be the makeup of the crowd, but I suppose it was unsurprising for an event like this around here.

I left the symposium to go back home for a short while. On my walk outside, I passed by various minorities. It’s a mostly white town, but minorities aren’t an insignificant demographic, as it is a diverse college town. It made me wonder about what kind of disconnect this signified. This symposium seemed to be at least as relevant for minorities as it was for whites. Then again, even most white people in this white majority town probably didn’t know about the event. Why should minorites be any different?

After returning, I next went to Professor Benjamin Hunnicutt’s talk, “Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream.” He is an expert in leisure studies and has written some books about the topic. I wasn’t initially excited by the title in the symposium schedule, but I went because my friend wanted to hear it. It turned out to be quite fascinating.

Hunnicutt offered a bunch of awesome quotes, from more recent to all the way back to the 1700s. He explained that he had been surprised by how far back his inquiry led him. One choice quote he offered was from John Adams, one of the least radical of the American founders:

“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

Now, that is economic and social mobility. Adams hoped that a couple of generations following him Americans would have the opportunity to live a life dedicated to leisure, education, and personal betterment. What happened to that American Dream?

Hunnicutt explained how our contemporary idealizing of work is rather new. What so many Americans strove for, from early America to the early 20th century, was a world of increasing free time, as an expression of individual freedom in a free society.

Freedom from labor inspired a wide variety of Americans, who envisioned a future when people worked very little. In fact, this future was becoming a reality, as hours worked decreased over most of American history, until the mid-20th century when work became the symbol of prosperity and of the American Dream. That is how we got to this point of fully equating not working with laziness and worthlessness.

Hunnicutt didn’t mention it, but I’m willing to bet that slavery and its abolition played a major role in shifting attitudes. For early Americans, labor was closely linked to slavery. To not work meant living the good life. Some of the founders envisioned a country ruled by an enlightened aristocracy, which meant those who could dedicate their lives to the public good because of independent wealth freed them from having to work, although Benjamin Franklin (the least aristocratic among them) was the only one to ever live this dream (the rest were either poor like Paine or in debt like Jefferson).

Slavery was abolished around the time industrialization went into full force. Reconstruction led to Populism, which led to Progressivism, which led to the New Deal. FDR re-envisioned work as a right and that implied work as an obligation, a civic duty even. Mass unemployment during the Great Depression was seen as a problem, rather than an opportunity for a new society of greater freedom. So, work programs were created. Ever since, politicians use employment rates as an indicator of the health of the economy and of the society as a whole. The number of hours worked on average has increased (even as money earned hasn’t increased), hence reversing a centuries old trend.

Why doesn’t this bother more Americans? Or rather, why are so few Americans even aware of this reality and the history behind it?

I’ve complained that these days even many American left-wingers can’t imagine a world without work. After all, without labor, how can their be labor organizing? Our entire lives are labor. What else do we have to organize around? That is a lack of imagination.

The concluding talk was by George Friday. She was supposed to discuss “Black Lives Matter,” but it was more informal and general. She wasn’t physically present. So, we listened to her disembodied voice calling in from her home in North Carolina. She mostly took questions.

One question in particular connected to my thinking. A white lady made an inquiry related to her professional experience in mental health and youth. She wanted to know how organizations, such as the one she works for, could reach out to the black community.

Friday gave some good advice, although mostly common sense. The main gist was to first develop connections of familiarity, trust, and respect. Then and only then seek more specific ways of helping and contributing. Basically, treat other people like humans who you care about knowing and relating to, not simply as problems to be solved.

However, what interested me was Friday’s assumption about who she was speaking to. She couldn’t see the crowd listening to her. All she knew was that we were in Iowa. As such, she assumed we were a bunch of privileged white people, which is basically what she told us. Well, she was right, more or less.

What occurred to me was this. Did anyone who organized the symposium reach out to minorities in the community in order to get more of them to attend? Instead of just white people, it might have been nice if there had been other blacks there besides the one presenter, Diane Henry. After all, one in sixty people in this town identify as non-white or mixed. I’m willing to bet a black living in this town, especially one who isn’t middle class, would have asked different kinds of questions.

It wasn’t just minorities who were underrepresented. There also weren’t many young people there or what I would perceive as poor people. Certainly, none of the homeless people I regularly see down the block were in attendance. The speakers and the audience were almost entirely older whites who were probably middle class professionals or retired professionals.

The lack of  young people was most noticeable. This is a small college town with a disproportionate number of young people, although many of them have left for the summer, which might lead one to ask why was the event scheduled after the students left town. It was strange to see so many people of retirement age in a town where half the population is under 25 years old.

This last line of thought brought me back to the issue of leisure. Economically well off people have the most leisure. In the US, older middle class white people represent the largest sector of the population that is economically well off. These are the people who, if working, don’t have to hold down multiple jobs (and, if they have children, can afford someone to watch their children) or, if retired, can afford to live off the pensions, savings, and investments from having had a stable well-paying professional career.

Free time isn’t just about leisure in the narrow sense. This symposium was about the serious work of democratic organizing and action in a free society. It takes a lot of work, mostly voluntary, to make a democracy function. Free time is the foundation of a free society and the expression of freedom in general.

Freedom to spend time as one wishes relates to many other freedoms. It is to be free from want, fear, and stress. To have the time is one aspect of having resources and opportunities. So much of the work we do is to get those resources and opportunities. This means the only way to create greater freedom is by offering greater access for all people to the lifestyle that at present is mostly limited to older middle(-to-upper) class whites.

Hunnicutt explains, in Why Do Republicans Want Us to Work All the Time?, that,

“Then real progress would begin. Humane and moral progress. Instead of perpetual consumerism and the infinite increase in material wealth, we would naturally turn to improving the human condition, learning how to live together “wisely, agreeable, and well,” as Keynes put it. Progress would then take the form of healthier families, communities and cities—the increase of knowledge, the enjoyment of nature, history and other peoples, an increasing delight in the marvels of the human spirit, the practice of our beliefs and values together, the finding of common ground for conviviality, expanding our awareness of God, wondering in Creation.”

There is one thing he doesn’t consider.

Maybe poverty, both of wealth and of time, is intentional, rather than an accidental side effect. There are few greater forms of social control than fear of destitution, the threat of hunger and homelessness. If people are so busy just trying to get by, constantly hustling, whether on the legal or black markets, they will never have the time to imagine a better life and a better society and they will never have the time to act, individually and with others, on such aspirations.

Is a poor person living in desperation actually free in any practical sense? In the US, this is an inevitably racialized question, but more importantly it is a class question involving all Americans of all races. Are we to treat freedom as a fundamental right or a mere luxury for the privileged few?

Freedom is meaningless as an abstraction. Either it is a tangible reality or, if held out like a carrot on a stick, a cruel joke.

William Clouse of Kentucky, 1805

Possible Residences, Marriages, and Children/Siblings

The 1830 census (Jessamine KY) for William Clouse (20-29) shows an adult female (20-29), presumably his wife Patsy Fain, and two (free white) persons under the age of 20. One of those should be James Wesley Clouse when he was around 4 years old, but the other is unknown. Another child?

In the 1840 census, William Clouse (30-39) is shown living alone in a neighboring county, Garrard. It isn’t known when his wife died, but it could have been before this time. Also, James Wesley Clouse at age 14 or so could easily have had an early unknown marriage or found work somewhere else. The other possible sibling might have been even older. Or maybe William Clouse was simply away from the Jessamine house while doing a job.

One intriguing hint is an 1850 census for Union, Montgomery, Indiana. There was a William living there with an Elizabeth and four children. The father, age 44, was born in Virginia, the wife in Indiana, and all the children were born in Kentucky. Other records show that William Clouse and Elizabeth Williams were married in Montomery in 1842. This is interesting as the last record we have for my ancestor, William Clouse, was last known from that 1840 KY census when he was living alone. Did he move and remarry? Did he have other children that he brought with him to this other possible marriage?

I have no records for when and where my William Clouse was born, although I’ve come across it being stated he was born in 1805 in KY. I don’t now recall where I’ve seen that stated and so I wouldn’t rely upon its accuracy at this point.

There were many people around at that time going by the name William Clouse. There is also a white William Clouse living in Richland, Rush, Indiana in the mid to late 1800s and who has same approximate birthdate as the Jesamine/Garrard William Clouse and the Montomery William Clouse; but this Rush William Clouse was born in Tennessee which is the location where some people claim my Clouse family came from. Also, in 1830, there was a free black family living in Scott KY which is very close to where my free white William Clouse was living. Is there a connection there? Were there slaves in the family that were freed?

I’m trying to figure out more about the Clouse family in general. I’d also like to know more about Patsy Fain. Where did she come from and what happened to her? Where did William Clouse and Patsy Fain die and where were they buried? Along with Patsy Fain, where was James Wesley Clouse and the other ‘child’ in 1840 as I don’t know of J. W. getting married until 1848? I’m fairly sure that 1830 Jessamine census is when all these people were living together as a family, but I can’t prove it as this is just circumstantial evidence.

I did further research. I found another 1840 census that fits better for my Clouse family. It has a William Clouse living with children. Two of these children fit the age range of James Wesley Clouse and the other ‘child’. The next three children were all under 10 years old and so were born since the last census. This would also further strengthen the potential connection to the 1850 Union IN William Clouse, as the two older children would have been gone and the three younger children fit the ages with another child having been born. I’m not sure how to verify or disprove this hypothesis.

Apparently, in 1840, there was a William Clouse in Jessamine KY and a William Clouse in Garrard KY, neighboring counties. Both were around the same age. Were there actually two people with the same name, around the same age, and living in the same immediate area? Or did somehow the same person get counted twice, once with his own household and another time while visiting/working in the next county over? There is a headstone for a William Clouse in Garrard, birth and death unknown.

* * *

Here are some of the relevant names in my family tree from census records:

1810 Garrard census: some Burton, some Teter,
1810 Jessamine census: one Close household (Mary with children), some Finn, (Welch, Penix)

1820 Garrard census: no Close or Clouse, some Burton, no Fain, no Teter or variant
1820 Jessamine census: some Fain, (Walters, Welch)

1830 Garrard census: no Clouse, some Burton, some Fain, no Teater
1830 Jessamine (much of it illegible): one Clouse household (William), no Burton, some Fain, no Teater,

1840 Garrard census: one Clouse single person (William), some Burton, some Tater
1840 Jessamine census: one Clouse household (Wm), some Fain (Welch)

1850 Garrard census: one Clouse household (William 20, Mary 19), one Clouse household (James 34, Catharine 25, Isham 1), one Clouse household (James W 22, Sarah A 22, Will E 1), some Teeter, some Burton, (Welch)
1850 Jessamine census: , some Fain, some Burton, some Teter, (Welch)

1860 Garrard census: one Clonce household (James, Catharine, Allen, John D, Wm F, Nancy, Lucy) some Burton, some Teater and Teates and Teeter, some Finn
1860 Jessamine census: some Fain, some Burton, some Teter

In the late 1800s, all of the Clouses began leaving the area. My family line then moved to Southern Indiana. It’s quite close by, just a few counties away.

Old Forms of Power

This description of volunteer firemen associations is intriguing.

“They were essentially fraternal orders . . . They had also been political organizations since the 1830s”
~ Leonard L. Richards (See more at end of post.)

American society and politics used to be dominated by such associations. I’ve written about some of them before. They were powerful organizations that were at times forces for good and at other times merely forces of local power.

I wonder how much of that world has survived into present-day. Many of those kinds of associations have disappeared. But I know that at least a few, like Kiwanis, have grown and gone international.

More specifically, I was wondering about the volunteer firemen associations. There are still many volunteer firemen in small towns and rural areas.

For example, in nearby West Branch, IA, they use volunteers. It is a small town, but it isn’t as poor as most small towns in the area, because a section of the town is part of well-funded county. They had enough money to build a quite expensive fire station, partly used as a clubhouse, and added an extension for an inside wash area, mostly used to wash their personal vehicles.

From what I understand, the West Branch volunteer firemen have a lot of power and influence in that town, such as getting funds directed their way, even as the sidewalks are crumbling. Also, I’ve been told that the volunteer firemen form a multi-generational legacy of volunteers, which makes one wonder about the process for getting approved as a member.

These are the remaining old families that still hold much sway. The last fire chief, Dick Stoolman, only stepped down because of a promise that his son, Kevin Stoolman, would take over. To quote his exact words, “I wouldn’t give it up unless he got it.” Old School nepotism, how quaintly charming.

It’s not as if holding power in a town of a couple of thousand is all that significant in the big scheme of things. But it is interesting as an example of how old forms of power can persist.

* * *

The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
By Leonard L. Richards
Kindle Locations 458-466

Both were old New York firemen, Broderick as a member of Howard Engine Company No. 34 and Kohler as an assistant engineer of the New York Volunteer Fire Department and a member of Protection Engine No. 5. In New York, as well as other eastern cities, volunteer fire companies did more than fight fires. They were also the premier social clubs in working-class neighborhoods. They were essentially fraternal orders with their own badges, mottoes, and initiation procedures. They tried to outdo one another in staging prizefights, dogfights, dances, parades, and an occasional formal ball. They had also been political organizations since the 1830s, initially used by elite politicians to get out the vote, but now used as a voice for men like themselves. Out of their ranks would come six mayors of the city.39

For Broderick, as well as many others, service as a fireman had been a stepping-stone to a political career. Shortly after he joined the Howard Company, one of the oldest in New York, he had been elected foreman, even though he was not yet old enough to vote.

Kindle Locations 547-555

Simultaneously, and more important to Broderick, he became a force in San Francisco politics. Money never mattered much to him. He was a bachelor with no kin. His personal expenses were modest. He just wanted enough money so that he didn’t have to worry about it. But political power was a different matter. The more he had, the better. Here again he had the help of Stevenson, along with some of Stevenson’s disbanded New York Volunteers. Together, they introduced a modification of the Tammany system into San Francisco.

The system, as they fashioned it, depended heavily on volunteer fire companies. Fires were common in San Francisco, far more so than in New York, and they were far more dangerous, as they wiped out not just a building or two but buildings, shacks, and tents in all directions. So firemen in San Francisco were heroes with plenty of work to do. Broderick did more than his share and in one fire, in particular, distinguished himself by his bravery. But he never regarded his company and others as just firefighters. He made sure that they functioned also as political clubs, getting out the vote on Election Day and providing a training ground for up-and-coming politicians.

American Eyes On Cuba

Reading the below passage, I was reminded of the Cold War attitude and actions toward Cuba. This included the failed invasion and nuclear showdown during Kennedy’s administration.

There has been a longstanding antagonism between the US and Cuba. The US relationship to Cuba has involved paranoia, intrigue, and acquisitiveness. This has also involved conflict in both places, especially conflicts related to race and slavery, but also regional and partisan conflict in the US and class conflicts in Cuba.

The difference back then was that the feared superpower was the Spanish Empire, instead of the Soviet Union. Still, it was the same basic jostling for political power, imperial expansion, and military positioning.

* * *

The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
By Leonard L. Richards
Kindle Locations 2109-2145

Upon arriving in Madrid, Soulé immediately alienated the Spanish government. He denounced the monarchy and cavorted openly with revolutionaries. He got into a duel with the French ambassador after one of the ambassador’s guests made a disparaging remark about Mrs. Soulé’s plunging neckline. For this affront the ambassador suffered a debilitating leg wound. From the outset, Soulé also made it clear that his mission was to acquire Cuba by hook or by crook. By this time, moreover, the Spanish, as well as every other European power, had heard that Quitman was raising troops to invade Cuba.

In September 1853, the Spanish government responded. It appointed the Marqués de la Pezuela captain general of Cuba, a post that put him in command of both the military and the government, with orders to take steps to defend Cuba. In December he issued decrees that among other things cracked down on those illegally engaged in the slave trade and gave citizenship rights to blacks illegally imported before 1835. At the same time, he recruited free blacks into the militia. Coming from a government that had no interest in abolishing either slavery or the African slave trade, Pezuela’s policy of “Africanization” made it clear that he was willing, if necessary, to use black troops against Quitman’s invaders and against any Cuban planter who sympathized with them.

Pezuela’s policy was also risky. It sparked fears of slave rebellion throughout the white South and calls for reprisals. It also aroused militants in the Mississippi Delta. They wanted action quickly. In response, the Louisiana legislature demanded “decisive and energetic measures.” Quitman, however, was unwilling to move until he had three thousand men, one armed steamer, and $220,000 at his disposal.11

Meanwhile, the Pierce administration decided that it might be possible to purchase Cuba if firebrands like Quitman were temporarily restrained. On April 3, Secretary of State William L. Marcy sent new instructions to Soulé, authorizing him to purchase Cuba for up to $130 million. If Spain refused, Soulé was then to concern himself with the problem of how to “detach” Cuba from Spain.12 Eight weeks later, the administration announced that it would prosecute all men who violated U.S. neutrality laws. The New Orleans grand jury then required Quitman to post a $3,000 bond guaranteeing his adherence to the neutrality laws for the next nine months. In the interim, in Cuba, Pezuela arrested more than a hundred pro-American planters and put some to death. Later that same year, Pierce called Quitman to Washington and showed him evidence that Cuba was strongly defended.13

Meanwhile, in Madrid, Soulé had no luck trying to buy Cuba. So the Pierce administration decided to let him confer privately with the other ministers in Europe—James Buchanan at London and John Y. Mason at Paris—and decide if it was feasible to persuade Spain to sell Cuba to the United States. Meeting in Ostend in October 1854, the three diplomats put their names to a dispatch that came to be known as the Ostend Manifesto.

The dispatch was a bombshell. Written mainly by Soulé, it urged the United States to immediately buy Cuba at any price up to $120 million. It also proclaimed that if Spain refused to sell and if its possession of Cuba seriously endangered the “internal peace” of the slave states, then the United States would be justified in seizing Cuba “upon the very same principle that would justify an individual in tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there were no other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home.”14

News of this saber-rattling manifesto sent shock waves through the Northern wing of the Democratic Party. They had just suffered huge election losses that fall. They had entered the election holding ninety-three seats in the House. They now had only twenty-two.15 What, many asked, was the Pierce administration up to? Didn’t they realize that the “burning house” rhetoric would provide Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune with even more ammunition to attack the party faithful? One Democratic newspaper after another thus distanced itself from the manifesto, even branding its authors “brigands” and “highwaymen.”The Pierce administration also ran for cover, disavowing the proposal and letting “the three wise men of Ostend” fend for themselves.16

That December, enraged by the reaction, Soulé resigned as minister to Spain. Several months later, in April 1855, Quitman gave back to the Cuban junta the powers it had bestowed upon him. No longer did either warrior have much hope of acquiring “the pearl of the Antilles” to offset the addition of California as a free state.

Mechanical Spider Legs and Progressive Reform

Did you see this article about FDR?

Report: White House Officials Deliberately Hid FDR’s Mechanical Spider Legs From Public

It does explain a lot. I always wondered why public photos of him never showed his legs.

On a happier note, here are some thoughts about the coming future, when mechanical spider legs will no longer need to be attached to humans.

‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’

One of the jobs that hasn’t been mechanized yet is that of torturer. But with Poland being held accountable, let’s hope it won’t be a growing job sector.

With US Accountability MIA, Poland to Make Payout for Torture of CIA

That article points out how the US government officials aren’t being held accountable for their own actions. That isn’t just true internationally, but also nationally. The US government isn’t accountable to American voters anymore than it is accountable to international courts.

Study: Congress literally doesn’t care what you think

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. – The Boston Globe

A major reason for this is big money. The US government has big money (funding a big military—and increasingly militarized police—along with helping to fund a big defense industry) and, of course, American politicians are beholden to big money (including from that defense industry), a cozy corporatist collusion. Besides indirect bribes (beyond just campaign money) and unofficial kickbacks (via no-bid contracts and below-market-value of natural resources from public lands), there are also direct subsidies to corporations and banks.

US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies

U.S. Taxpayers Subsidizing World’s Biggest Fossil Fuel Companies

Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?

Top Banking Analyst: Subsidies to Giant Banks Exceed $780 Billion Dollars Per YEAR

Big Banks Have Raked In $102 Billion In Subsidies Since 2009: Report

A related aspect is that of the climate change debate. People are always arguing over who is getting funded how much and who is doing the funding. Interestingly, many of the same big energy sources that fund political campaigning also fund the opponents of the scientific consensus, from funding think tanks to funding scientists. No matter how much money climatology researchers get, they can’t use that money for lobbying and campaign donations, as does big energy.

Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done

Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort

Graphs of Science Funding

It’s obviously a complex issue, but one has to wonder what are the end results of all that money. Even the money that goes to research, is the issue really a lack of enough data to know we have a problem to deal with? I doubt it.

Big money corruption is a non-partisan issue, not that you’d realize that from the mainstream media. It has been a central concern of both the Tea Party and the Occupiers. In general, it has been a growing concern of all Americans. A movement is forming and those involved, individually and collectively, are demanding to be taken seriously. In some cases, concerned citizens are going to extremes in their attempt to get heard.

Can the Gyrocopter Gang Start a Political Reform Movement?

Much of the organizing is grassroots and the changes are starting at the local level. Just recently, the county I live in issued a resolution and so joined the ranks of a growing number of local governments across the country, in both red and blue areas.

County supervisors call for Constitutional amendment – The Daily Iowan

Now, we just need a president who is even half the man FDR was and apparently he himself was already half machine. Maybe having mechanical spider legs gives someone the courage to face down the fascists and oligarchs in order to demand progressive reform.

Partisan Apologetics, Bipartisan Bullshit

Someone pointed out to me two articles, one by Paul Street and the other by Thomas Frank. They are about liberal apologetics or rather standard partisan rhetoric.

I often feel wary about liberalism as a label, especially as applied to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s liberalism is to Martin Luther King’s liberalism as Jerry Falwell’s Christianity was to MLK’s Christianity. But that is neither here nor there.

The point is that the apologists in question are defending the status quo. I’m not sure if it even matters how such apologists self-identify or what kind of rhetoric they use, just as it doesn’t particularly matter how they identify their opponents and their opponents identify them. Depending on who you ask, Obama is a liberal or a neoliberal, a socialist or a corporate shill, a radical mastermind or a weak moderate, and much else besides. It’s all so much empty talk.

What does matter is what is being defended, beyond all labels and rhetoric. It’s party politics. And I’m sure at least Paul Street understands that the two parties are basically the same, even if one of them is consistently and persistently more despair-inducing than the other.

The point is that Obama isn’t being inconsistent about his beliefs. The more likely explanation is that he is acting according to his principles and values, despite it not being the hope and change some thought he was bringing. His presidency, as such, isn’t a failure, but a grand success. It doesn’t matter what one calls it. Obama serves power and money, just like Bush Jr. It’s the same old game.

It isn’t a failure of the Democratic Party. It isn’t a failure of democracy. It isn’t a failure of liberalism. All of that is irrelevant. It’s a show being put on. It is politics as spectacle. Sure, Obama will play the role of a liberal in giving speeches, but it’s just a role and he is just an actor, although not as great of an actor as someone like Reagan, not that the quality of the acting is all that important.

For that reason, the apologists should be criticized harshly. So should the partisan loyalists who so much wanted to believe the pretty lies, no matter how obvious they were.

After he was elected, I was for giving Obama a chance to prove his intentions, not that I ever bought into the rhetoric. That is why I hoped he would get elected to a second term (instead of Romney), so that no one could ever claim that he wasn’t given the full opportunity to implement what he wanted. As his presidency draws to a close, it is fair to conclude that he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt what he supports. Of course, that should have been obvious long ago to anyone paying attention.

The healthcare reform was a good example of what he supports. As explained in one comment to Frank’s article:

“Obama was able to get the ACA through with no Republican votes, relying fully on Democratic support. Why then, didn’t Obama push a single-payer plan through? The only answer is that either Obama didn’t want single-payer, or the Democratic establishment didn’t want single-payer.

“So instead the Democrats went for the individual-mandate, proposed by the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s, and implemented by Romney in Massachusetts.

“Instead of a truly public health care system, the Democrats mandated that We The People need to subsidize private-sector, for-profit corporations.

“Not to mention, this ‘recovery’ has seen a drastic increase in the stratification of wealth, where the uber-rich have gotten far richer while the middle-class shrinks.

“But under a President McCain or a President Romney, would we have really expected anything to be different?”

Democrats typically argued that Obama’s healthcare reform was a good compromise for pushing progressive change. Meanwhile, Republicans typically argued it was either socialism or a step toward it.

What was mostly ignored by both sides of mainstream politics is that Obamacare first and foremost served the interests of big money, which in this case meant big insurance. The only time big money gets mentioned is when campaign season goes into full gear and even then it’s never about serious concern for getting money out of politics (along with related corporatist issues such as ending revolving door politics, stopping  regulatory capture, etc).

How does this kind of corporatist policy lead to either progressive or socialist results? Why not just call it what it is and leave it at that? Why are so many people willing to play these political games of doublespeak?

People have their minds so twisted up with convoluted rhetoric that I suspect many of them couldn’t think straight, even if they tried. Heck, looking at this ideological mess, I must admit that I also find myself struggling to make heads or tails out of it.

Besides standard political power-mongering, the agenda is hard to figure out. Is it just mindless defense of the status quo? Why don’t those in power see how destructive this is, even to the system itself in the long run?

Gangs as Civic Institutions

I haven’t been following the news much lately, but I’ve caught snippets of what is going on in the Baltimore riots. Interestingly, the only video I’ve watched about it is the interview with the gang members, both Crips and Bloods, who called a truce.

The interviewer ended the piece with the question, “Is that not a very different perspective that you have ever heard?”

What she leaves out is the fact that the reason most Americans don’t hear other perspectives is because interviews like this rarely happen on the mainstream media. Instead, mainstream reporters tend to only report what officials tell them. In this case, the police officials made false statements that the truce was called so the gangs could work together to kill cops.

I’m one of the atypical Americans who is mostly informed by alternative media and who is fairly well read about American history. So, to answer her question: No, it is not surprising to me.

Gangs have been calling truces since gangs have existed, and they often do so for political reasons. Gangs are just one of the many expressions of humans social nature, and they even can at times take form as civic institutions and repositories of social capital. They even act as employers for those who have few, if any, good job opportunities.

I must admit there was a time not too many years ago when I had a more simplistic understanding of many things. It has required massive self-(re-)education to understand American society. Because of my studies of history, I was able to recognize what this video represented. I’d seen a similar thing when doing research on the KKK in the early 20th century, a far more violent time than right now (when street gangs first became dominant) and yet the KKK was never only or even primarily about violence.

I would argue such organizations, including gangs, aren’t really about violence. The gangs in this country aren’t necessarily any more violent than the police. I’ve pointed out that for many communities gangs act in the role of militias where the police have failed to maintain order or, worse, where police have become part of the problem in destroying lives, families, and the social fabric.

Italians a century ago found themselves in an antagonistic relationship to the dominant WASP culture. Immigrants brought with them the Black Hand (origins of the Mafia), which was equal parts gang and civic institution. The Black Hand defended Italian communities and maintained cultural social standards, but they also kept other violent forces at bay, including that of bigoted police who targeted ethnic immigrants. Don’t forget that Italians once were sometimes called the ‘N’ word.

As a society, we need to think more carefully about the human instinct for social order. Humans want to have a sense of belonging, a sense of place and community. Humans want to feel safe and secure, to feel they have some control over their lives. If the dominant society acts in a destructive way toward this natural impulse, it does no one any good.

* * * *

Articles of interest:

Crips, Bloods Call Truce, Not to Harm Cops But to Protect their Community from Violence & Looting
by John Vibes, Free Thought Project .com

However, their promise to no longer be divided, was such a threat to the establishment that within 12 hours there were stories on the home page of every mainstream media publication talking about how the gangs were going to join up with the specific intention of killing cops and burning down the city.

Each of the mainstream sources had basically republished a press release that was put out by the Baltimore City Police Department, citing that there was a “credible threat” that gang members were planning to carry out attacks on police. There was no evidence to back this claim up, but the very fact that rival gangs were calling a truce in the streets was enough to drive the establishment into panic mode.

This should tell you something. The establishment wants people divided, and they fear other armed and organized groups providing their own communities with defense, effectively challenging the state’s monopoly on violence.

One thing that is often forgotten is that many of today’s street gangs have roots in activist groups that sought to provide protection for communities that were being ignored or oppressed by police. These groups became less organized over the years, lost their way and turned to corruption. However, this truce could be a positive sign that these groups are returning to their roots and becoming more concerned with protecting their communities.

by John Hagedorn,

In major U.S. cities, gangs were strongly influenced by revolutionary and civil-rights organizations. The ideologies of groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords Organization attracted many youths away from the gangs. Many of these political groups in fact began as gangs and aimed their recruiting efforts at the children of the street. Federal agencies used COINTELPRO, an FBI operation aimed at disrupting political organizations, and other tactics to provoke violence between gangs and revolutionary organizations. Rivalry between gangs and political groups was balanced by negotiations between them, and gangs joined many movement demonstrations.

Gangs also initiated community service agencies, started local businesses, and got federal grants for education and job training. The Conservative Vice Lord Nation, for example, a Chicago gang that came into existence in the 1950s, began multiple social programs and businesses in the 1960s.

But the 1960s ended in a flurry of violence, both from the streets and the police. Revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panther Party were smashed, and the social programs run by gangs ended when they lost funding. Thousands of gang members and political activists were incarcerated. While repression crushed the political groups, gangs persisted and maintained ties to the streets even from prison. Jacobs’ (1977) seminal study of Stateville, a notorious maximum-security prison in Illinois, demonstrated how prison life was now linked back to the community through the gangs.

Gangs joined with revolutionary and Black Muslim groups in demanding better conditions in prison. Many gangs adopted religious doctrines and rituals, which some said were a cover for gang activities and others saw as a genuine response to oppression. Gangs controlled the cellblocks with violence and superior organization, and many also maintained their hold over the organization on the street. But in the 1970s and 1980s, when many gang leaders were released from prison, the neighborhoods were even more rundown than when they left them. The sociologist William Julius Wilson vividly described the impact of de-industrialization on the black community. Far from withering away, ghettos persisted, and their conditions had deteriorated.

* * * *

Previous blog posts:

Substance Control is Social Control

And on the issue of poverty and unemployment, I explained an insight I had in my post Working Hard, But For What?:

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

There is a strength that comes from adversity. This was demonstrated by ethnic immigrants in the past, such as the close-knit bootlegging community of German-Americans in Templeton, Iowa. People who have had histories of disadvantage and/or oppression sometimes learn amazing skills of social adaptation and survival. They develop forms of social capital that those more privileged lack.

The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence

The most powerful weapon against oppression is community. This is attested to by the separate fates of a Templetonian like Joe Irlbeck and big city mobster like Al Capone. “Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago” (Kindle Locations 7-9). What ruled Templeton was most definitely not violence. Instead, it was a culture of trust. That is a weapon more powerful than all of Al Capone’s hired guns.

What the mob forgot was that the Mafia began as a civic organization, the Black Hand. It was at times violent, as was the KKK, but most of what these civic organizations did was community work. They defended their communities and cultures, their traditions and customs. The Germans had their Bund, which served a similar purpose. Hispanics also have a history of forming tight-knit communities that will defend themselves.

African-Americans, however, have a tougher road to travel. Their unique African ethnic culture, language, and religion was annihalated by slavery. Even Native Americans fared better on this account. The social capital of African-Americans was intentionally destroyed. It has been an uphill battle for them to rebuild it, against all odds. They don’t even have the privilege of a jury of their peers, for the police targeting of blacks and the racial bias in the courts has disenfranchized so many of them from the opportunity of jury service. Many blacks find themselves before a jury of white people and, unlike the Templetonians, they have little hope of being saved from the jaws of injustice.

Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation

I told my dad that the KKK was basically the conservatives of their day and he agreed with me. Some months earlier, I had told him the exact same thing and he probably thought I was being unfair and mean. To most people, making a comparison to the KKK is about the same as making a comparison to Nazis.

We have a hard time seeing things for what they are or were. We put things into the context of our own time and judge them accordingly. That is problematic with something like the KKK which is easy to caricature and criticize with straw-man arguments. Most Klan members weren’t violent people who spent their every free moment thinking about how to oppress others. If anything is scary about the KKK, it is that completely normal people belonged to it and most of the time they did completely normal activities. They were good citizens, devoted husbands, loving fathers, and practicing Christians.

The KKK wasn’t necessarily all that different from any other number of civic organizations from that time. The Second KKK was even modeled on many of those other organizations:

“In an era without Social Security or widely available life insurance, men joined fraternal organizations such as the Elks or the Woodmen of the World to provide for their families in case they died or were unable to work. The founder of the new Klan, William J. Simmons, was a member of twelve different fraternal organizations. He recruited for the Klan with his chest covered with fraternal badges, and consciously modeled the Klan after fraternal organizations.
“Klan organizers, called “Kleagles”, signed up hundreds of new members, who paid initiation fees and received KKK costumes in return. The organizer kept half the money and sent the rest to state or national officials. When the organizer was done with an area, he organized a huge rally, often with burning crosses, and perhaps presented a Bible to a local Protestant preacher. He left town with the money collected. The local units operated like many fraternal organizations and occasionally brought in speakers.”

Those civic organizations have interesting histories. The KKK was created partly in response to new immigrants, but many fraternal and community organizations were created by and for new immigrants. The Germans were well known for their organizations that were a thorn in the side of those who wanted to force the non-English to assimilate. The Germans, until WWII, had more or less successfully resisted assimilation and the KKK didn’t like that. These ethnic and/or populist civic organizations, German and otherwise, were sometimes closely tied to labor organizing, another thing the KKK would have not appreciated.

Interestingly, the Second KKK arose at the same time and for the same reasons fascist movements arose in Germany and Italy. In the US, Germans formed the German American Bund which supported Nazi Germany before WWII. Like the KKK, the Bund formed large marches in cities where Germans were concentrated. Fascism was in the air. The characteristics of fascism included reactionary populism, social conservatism, folk religiosity, patriotic nationalism, ethnocentric nativism, etc. Despite their differences, the KKK and the Bund were expressions of the same basic shift within society at that time.

These organizations weren’t evil incarnate. They were simply people trying to bring order back to what felt like the chaos of a changing society.