“What is the most important thing in life?”

The answer, according to a hunter-gatherer: 

  • “Meat.”
  • “Honey.”
  • “Corn porridge.”

That is the order he gave them in. He paused between stating each. But the first answer came without any pause. And the last one would’ve been introduced during colonialism.

To emphasize his point, he later said, “If we have meat, honey, and water, then we are happy. Thank you, friend.” He didn’t bother to add the corn porridge in the second answer. Corn porridge is probably only what they eat when they have nothing else.

Then further on, the interviewer asked, “What is your biggest struggle?” Guess what the hunter-gatherer’s answer was. “Meat.” It really does all go back to meat, although they did explain the importance of water as well. Honey is a nice treat, but they kept coming back to meat.

This hunter-gatherer was really obsessed with the baboons they were going to hunt that night. He was quite excited about it. Those baboons on the rock in the distant meant meat.

Meat makes the world go around, including the fear of becoming meat. The first answer to their greatest fear was, “Lion.” Eat or be eaten. The hunter-gatherer’s whole live is obsessed over the next kill and avoiding being killed.

Honey is pleasurable and good quick energy. Plant foods can be eaten in a pinch or for variety. But, for humans, lack of meat in the wild means death.

The Human War On Cat Drugs

When our uncle died recently, we cleaned out his house and it was quite the job. He had been a bachelor his entire life and had lived alone in that large house since the 1970s. He left behind many things, including some cats. One cat, a calico, was found in the house by the emergency workers and she was brought to the vet. When we got there, a couple of outdoor cats were needing to be fed. One of those cats, orange and white, was our uncle’s buddy and would follow him around; according to the neighbor. We were able to catch him, but not the other grey cat. Then several days after working in the house, we heard a noise when we sat down on the couch.

It turns out another cat had remained hidden for about a week after our uncle’s death, as some water and spilled treats were still around. This kitty is a black and white female who we named Betty. She was the third kitty to be caught and adopted. After bringing them back to our house, she was bullied by her feline housemates. It turned out the other two cats preferred being outdoor kitties, anyway; and so we sent them to a farm. Because of some clawing issues, we thought we might have to get rid of Betty as well. She was also such a scaredy cat that we hadn’t been able to touch her since bringing her home. But, on the morning the other cats were to be sent away, we were finally able to pet her. So, we decided to give her a chance to see how she was without the other kitties. It turns out she is a sweety, if still skittish, although less so over time.

One of the things she loves most in the world, besides constant petting, is eating the leaves of a dracaena plant we’ve had for 30 years. She’d prefer to have several leaves every day, if we’d let her. Even though she has shown no ill effect, we decided to make sure the plant isn’t poisonous. Many websites declare the plant toxic, but it doesn’t seem so straightforward once further investigated. In one of the articles that warned about the plant, it pointed out that there was no evidence of toxicity and yet still the warning was emphasized, just to be on the safe side. It was written that, “However, while the Dracaena is poisonous to cats, they likely won’t consume too much as it’s quite bitter. Furthermore, the plant is only mildly to moderately toxic, so ingestion won’t be deadly. According to the ASPCA, no death from Dracaena plant consumption has been reported to date. […] There are also no lasting effects related to the poisoning” (Donna-Kay, Dracaena Marginata and Cats – Is the Dracaena Toxic to Your Feline?).

So, what is the issue? The main one is the cat might vomit. But then again, cats will vomit from eating grass and licking their own fur. Cats vomiting is not exactly a sign of anything unusual going on. What are some other symptoms of supposed dracaena poisoning? There is loss of appetite, dilated pupils, and lethargy. Hey, wait a second, that just sounds like a drug; similar to marijuana, except losing appetite rather than gaining it. No wonder my kitty loves this plant so much, although she has never gotten lethargic as she is quite spunky. But when she wants her dracaena leaves, she begs for them. And it seems to make her extremely happy. How could anyone be opposed to the happiness of a sweet little kitty? Nancy Reagan says, Just say no! Yeah, whatever. They used to say that smoking marijuana would make people go psychotic, commit crimes, and kill people. Plant chemicals have been under a long war on drugs. Why foist our human delusions onto innocent non-human animals? Why must poor little Betty suffer for the sake of our unfounded fears?

The only possible issue is that the leaves contain saponins, a common plant chemical, specifically a bio-detergent (breaks up lipids and so useful as a soap). They are considered natural toxins, as the purpose of them is to discourage creatures from eating them. They are plant defense molecules, but they are generally harmless to mammals, except at very high levels. Plants are full of all kinds of defense chemicals. Those like Dr. Steven Gundry advise not eating certain plants or preparing them carefully to reduce the concentration of what are called antinutrients. Saponins are simply one variety of antinutrients. The thing is dracaena doesn’t necessarily contain any more plant antinutrients than many common vegetables humans eat, from the brassica family to the nightshade family. We couldn’t see any information that dracaena is a particularly toxic plant or that it has excess antinutrients compared to any other plant.

Technically, all of the antinutrients have toxic qualities and there are cases of people dying from eating large amounts of certain plant foods — a poison is in the dose. But such deaths are rare. Largely, it’s the antinutrient aspect that is the concern. “Like lectins, saponins can be found in some legumes—namely soybeans, chickpeas, and quinoa—and whole grains, and can hinder normal nutrient absorption. Saponins can disrupt epithelial function in a manner similar to lectins, and cause gastrointestinal issues, like leaky gut syndrome” (Melissa Sammy, Should you be eating anti-nutrients?). Saponins are also found in kratom, gynostemma, sarsaparilla root, licorice, avocado, spinach, asparagus, oats, agave, yam, and approximately a million other plants imbibed by humans and other creatures. It’s insects, in particular, that don’t like saponins; as central purpose is as an insecticide.

Cats, humans, and other mammals consume plant chemicals all the time, including saponins. This is an intentional activity, as plant chemicals can also have medicinal effects (ed. by Kazuo Yamasaki & George R. Waller, Saponins Used in Traditional and Modern Medicine). A cat might be drawn to eating saponin-rich leaves in order to kill parasites, suppress viral infections, reverse bacterial overgrowth, and clean out their intestinal system. Some saponins have also been found useful for treatment or reduction of symptoms for many conditions: cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, fatty liver, etc; and COVID-19. Also, they lower cholesterol, modulate the immune system, and act as an anti-inflammatory. Medicinal plants like ginseng have saponins as active compounds. In fact, dracaena is used medicinally: “Many of the dracaena saponins are steroids and contribute to the use of this plant as a form of traditional medicine in west Africa” (Helga George, Is Dracaena Toxic to Cats or Dogs?).

So, it’s not exactly implausible that cats might use dracaena as a drug, either medicinally or recreationally. Ginseng with its saponins is an extremely popular and effective adaptogen and nootropic. People take ginseng not only because it improves their health but because it gives them energy, improves neurocognitive functioning, and makes them feel good. Yerba mate is another stimulating herb with saponins. All animals use plants to change their internal chemistry and functioning. That is the role of plants, as nature’s chemical factories. Saponins come in two main varieties, triterpenoid and steroidal; the latter of which are structurally similar to some human hormones, and presumably the same applies to other mammals like cats; but the triterpenoids are also biologically active.

But one doesn’t want to be eating large amounts of saponins all the time. Traditionally, people would rinse and soak saponin-rich plant foods or use other methods in order to eliminate some of the saponins and so make them less harmful. Some suggest simply being more careful about which plant foods one eats. Then there are those who advocate removing plant foods altogether. There pretty much isn’t any plant foods that don’t have one antinutrient or another in them. As for saponins, some potential negative effects are — besides as antinutrients: disrupting fat metabolism, increasing intestinal permeability, cleaving cholesterol, disrupting endocrine function, and toxicity to cells. The problem is that, if this is reason for your cat to not eat dracaena leaves, it’s also the same reason for you to not eat hundreds of plant foods you’ll find at the grocery store and farmer’s market.

There is a lot of debate about antinutrients. And the evidence is mixed. But, generally, they aren’t deadly. Or rather, if they’re going to kill you, it will likely come slowly over many years of overconsumption. No one really knows if these plant chemicals are a net benefit or a net risk to human health. We know even less about cat health. Cats in the wild would nibble on all kinds of plants. And various species of felines have lived all over the world for millions of years. They are highly adaptable creatures. Generally speaking, they probably aren’t going to keep eating any plant that makes them sick. Every claim about dracaena being toxic is pure speculation based on absolutely zero knowledge of any proven evidence or mechanism of dangerous toxicity. That isn’t necessarily to say one should be entirely unconcerned. Maybe try to limit your cat’s consumption. But if and when your cat chomps down on a dracaena leaf, you probably don’t need to immediately call your vet in a state of panic. Just watch your cat to see if it’s fine.

It’s interesting that the warnings are so consistently and widely repeated, based on no facts or known cases of harm. The main thing seems to be that some cats act ‘intoxicated’ and therefore they must be in a state of potentially threatening toxicosis. By that logic, you should call 911 every time you see a mildly inebriated person. So, why does this warning get repeated? Most of the websites are from veterinarians or other official websites related to health, toxicity, and pets. In their formal capacity of authority, they are going to be cautious, even when there is no rational reason for caution. If a veterinarian gives out a warning of toxicity about a non-toxic plant, the worse that happens is someone unnecessarily throws away a perfectly fine houseplant. But if a veterinarian tells someone that a plant is safe or simply has no known toxicity and an animal gets sick as a result, that could lead to bad results for their reputation and career. Yet this is in stark contrast to how mainstream health professionals for humans usually dismiss claims that saponins in plants are anything to worry about, even though there are real concerns in some cases.

On a personal level, we do take our cat’s health seriously and would do nothing to intentionally harm her. This is about risk-benefit analysis. The case for risk is weak and minimal, but there are some potential real negative outcomes. Is it any more dangerous than a human drinking a beer or eating spinach? No one knows. From the perspective of the precautionary principle, one might simply remove the plant from the equation, just in case with the idea that it’s better safe than sorry. Then again, Betty just loves her dracaena leaves, one of her few joys in life, right up there with watching chipmunks out the window. But as the responsible human caretakers, we are in the position to make a decision on Betty’s health and happiness. It’s not like she’d likely fall into despair by the loss of her beloved dracaena habit. Even if risk could be calculated, how much risk is pleasure worth? Certainly, pleasure can’t be calculated. If we were making this decision for ourselves about a plant that had saponins in it, we’d definitely think twice before imbibing every day. Yet, we enjoy the buzz from our multiple cups of coffee a day, yet another plant drug that contains antinutrients, including saponins. Too much coffee is probably harmful as well. We are feeling uncertain and undecided about what to do with this dracaena plant.

* * *

6/13/21 – We finally gave into fear-mongering. Or rather we rationally sided with the precautionary principle. We couldn’t find any scientific evidence or even anecdotal evidence that dracaena is harmful for cats. The closest we came to evidence of any sort is that it’s traditionally used as medicine in Africa. And it’s interesting to note that Africa is one of the origins of the modern domesticated cat. Presumably, some of the wild cats of Africa evolved with dracaena. It would be interesting for someone to study the habits of these wild cats. Do they eat dracaena? Do they enjoy it? Do they get ill? Do they die?

Anyway, we don’t know where this “old wives tale” came from. And we don’t know why veterinarians, medical professionals, those in pet-related fields, and animal lovers are promoting this seemingly unfounded rumor and spreading apparent disinfo. But, based on the precautionary principle, we feel compelled to give tentative credence to the notion that such evidence might exist, even if the dozens of websites we looked at cited no such evidence. It’s maybe better safe than sorry. The only downside is Betty’s temporary unhappiness. We removed the dracaena plant yesterday morning and since she keeps looking for where it went. She’ll probably have forgotten about it by the end of the week. So, she’ll have to find a new addiction or replacement. Maybe she’ll, instead, eat more food to fill the void in her life, become fat, and then die of metabolic syndrome.

Jokes aside, we honestly do take seriously the potential risk of plant toxins and antinutrients. We’ve intentionally gone strict carnivore for periods and, even when not carnivore, we limit the kinds and amounts of plant foods we allow in our diet. Tonight, for example, we picked out the pork and left the beans, although we did take a heapful serving of cabbage (the dark leafy greens are a nod to my past paleo diet and the influence of Dr. Terry Wahls). In line with Dr. Paul Saladino and others, we’re really not sure that plants offer much benefit to human health; and probably even less to cat health; although the harm is likely minimal if plant consumption is occasional. Then again, there is also the happiness principle or at least the pleasure principle. We’re certainly not trying to take away the small joys from Betty’s life. But we do follow an anti-addiction philosophy and, admittedly, Betty is acting a bit addicted to her cherished dracaena leaves. At the rate she was eating it’s leaves, we’d probably have to buy a new dracaena plant every month or two.

To demonstrate the seriousness of our intentions, we’ve cut out almost all sugar and starches from our diet. The only exception is very rarely some honey, wild berries when in season, and maybe baked goods if made by someone we personally know. The neighbor lady made cookies for taking care of her cat and so we ate one of them. Yet, typically even at birthday parties, we’ll abstain from cake and ice cream because it’s just store-bought crap. Make cake and ice cream from scratch and that is a whole other matter. The thing is we used to be carb addicts and so we are now on an extremely low-carb diet. On a typical day, we get near zero carbs of any sort. Sure, even meat has some carbs in it, if rather meager in amount. The most carbs we typically might get is from cheese, but we tend to eat aged cheese which only has 1 gram of carb per 1 ounce. We still get cravings that we fulfill with stevia, yet another plant, and even that bothers us because it seems to keep the craving alive. We went a period of time without even stevia and it was interesting how some of the simplest of things could taste sweet. Without sweeteners to dull the tongue, the carbs in dairy jump out on the palate.

Unrelated to helping Betty kick her dracaena habit, we went on a caffeine fast this week and withdrawal was a doozy. We were in a state of near continuous semi-unconsciousness for a couple of days, until our body kicked back into gear with producing its own dopamine again. We really hate the feeling of being addicted to anything. Should we force our Puritan abstention on innocent Betty who just wants her next hit of dracaena goodness? Obviously, if she is addicted, she doesn’t mind it. And it’s not like it negatively affects her life or employment. All she does is lay around the house anyway. She seems to prove the war on drugs propaganda. She is a lazy loser who is wasting away her life while more productive citizens carry her weight. But she brings added value to the world in her own way. Oh well. She’ll get over it, hopefully.

Still, it’s hard to shake the nagging feeling that the idiotic warnings, however improbable, might have some merit. Still, one has to wonder how there could possibly be zero known evidence, at least unknown to the fear-mongers and rumor-mongers, if it truly was a dangerous plant. Cats, of course, are one of the most common house pets and dracaena is one of the most common house plants. If dracaena was dangerously toxic, there should be thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases of dracaena poisoning of cats. The lack of evidence, in this case, could be taken as a massively overwhelming evidence of lack. Why should the precautionary principle give deference to irrational fear? It shouldn’t. But there is an off chance that the fear could be rational. After all, how could an endless number of experts be wrong? That is kind of a stupid question for anyone familiar with the replication crisis and public health epidemic related to the field of diet and nutrition, which does overlap with the contentious issue of plant antinutrients.

For whatever it’s worth, maybe Betty and the rest of us will drift back toward a strict carnivore diet. We did a meat fast (i.e., meat-only diet) this winter and last. And maybe we’ll do it again, particularly eliminating caffeine and stevia as well, if only as another experiment. In doing so, we could join Betty in solidarity by sacrificing all of our plant pleasures, such as our love for avocado and olives. It’s good to clear the system out once in a while to get the sense of how plants are affecting one. Yet it doesn’t mean we have to be anti-herbivore forever. Betty doesn’t seem to like cat grass, but maybe we can find some similar plants she could safely nibble on, if not as addictively as her dracaena plant.

“We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

Dr. Gabor Maté, Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare

The quote in the title is a statement made by Dr. Gabor Maté. It comes from a talk that is part of a longer interview by Russell Brand. The beautiful dream is that of Zionism. The man speaking is Dr. Maté, a Jew and an infant survivor of the Holocaust. Many in his family died in Nazi death camps. Early on, he spent time in Israel and Palestine, and so he saw the conflict firsthand. After an idealistic youth, he became disillusioned about Zionism, although not disillusioned about humanity.

Besides speaking on a personal level, he is also an expert on trauma and addiction. He has a compassionate attitude about how humans get trapped in harmful patterns, but he also has an uncompromising moral position. Unresolved trauma can be dangerous, particularly at the level of a large population. In the interview, he said: “I can understand the warmth that Jews have for Israel; I used to be in that same camp. I can understand, after the horrors of the Nazi genocide, how we desperately want some protection. I can understand all that. But none of that excuses what we are doing… There are no two sides…in terms of power and control and its pretty straightforward. There was a land with a people living there and other people wanted it, they took it over, and they continue to take it over, and they continue to discriminate against, oppress and dispose that other people.”

The early Zionists had a slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Dr. Maté mentions this and points that all of the Jews knew the land was not without a people. Many Jews, he says, knew this and so argued against Zionism. His conclusion is that it inevitably was a “colonial project” involving the imperial powers at the time. He goes so far as to call it “ethnic cleansing” that he says is continuing. He asserts this is undeniable to anyone like him who has studied the history and who was there to see what actually happened. There is one thing he doesn’t mention, though. Maybe some of the Zionists took that slogan seriously and literally. The fact of the matter is many Israelis have not treated Palestinians as if they were people. In nearly every case of human oppression throughout history, the victims are portrayed as animals and brutes or as non-animals, or as simply not existing and not mattering — unheard and unseen.

Rhetoric is powerful, particularly beautiful dreams that become enmeshed in shared identities. They can feel empowering even, but they can also lull us asleep and we might find ourselves in nightmares. “Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned”, Dr. Maté says to his son. “It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.” Later on in his talk with his son, he emphasizes that ignorance is not an excuse. “So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

In watching another video on the Some More News Youtube channel, someone going by Beretta249 left a comment. It’s a good example of how someone becomes disillusioned with Zionism or else how someone loses sympathy with those wielding it as a dangerous and deadly weapon. This person stated that, “For me this “conflict” got uncomplicated when I saw the IDF firing artillery, like modern 150mm guns, into Gaza. That isn’t precision. That isn’t proportional. That’s firing artillery into a city. That’s random slaughter. Like firing a shotgun into a fishtank” (Uncomplicating The “Complicated” Palestine/Israel Conflict – SOME MORE NEWS). The worst part is this random mass violence mostly kills children, the most innocent of innocent.

The jerry-rigged rockets used by Palestinians are cheaply designed, unprofessionally built, lacking in any guidance system, highly ineffective, and rarely kill anyone. Comparing those Palestinian rockets to the near carpet-bombing the Israelis do is like comparing firecrackers to bazookas. When those committing mass atrocity and crimes against humanity invoke, “The Holocaust!”, one’s only response is to shake one’s head in sadness and despair. Anyone with a soul and a beating heart can’t help but become disillusioned. Such trauma-induced psychosis strains one’s capacity for compassion and understanding, but we have to try to heal these wounds if the cycle of violence and victimization is ever to stop.

Some further quotes from that video:

187 Trauma and Israel (with Dr. Gabor Maté)
from Under The Skin with Russell Brand

Gabor Maté
from Promised Land Museum

* * *

Here is another interview with his son, the journalist Aaron Maté, where Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the related topic of antisemitism:

“From the beginning, there were Jews who said: Yeah okay we need a state, maybe. And we have a right to seek protection. But the reality is that, in Palestine specifically, there’s already another people. And there’s no way to create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing violence to the local population. And so, from that perspective, Zionism becomes a colonial project. It can only be achieved at the expense of the local population and only by cooperating with the leading imperial imperial power of the time which is Britain which which controls Palestine after the First World War.

“And so, within the Zionist movement, there’s this debate, right. There’s this giant slogan, “A land without a people for people without a land”, intimating that Palestine was an empty land. But the Zionists knew right from the beginning that there was no land without a people. And both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, in almost identical words, said that when the Arabs fight against us it’s not terrorism; it’s nationalism. They’re fighting for their own land just as we would in their situation. So they were clear about this.

“Then you get the horrors of the Second World War and the worst and the most horrific imaginable expression of antisemitism and racism in history. And now you have the identification of the Jewish state with Jewish survival and the fight against antisemitism. So that. when a lot of the Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Palestine then came up against the Arabs the local Arabs who (for previously valid reasons as Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky pointed out) opposed to take over their land, they just saw them as another bunch of antisemites.

“So there’s been this confusion right from the beginning. Now it’s become much stronger in recent years as more and more people are in the world have woken up to the reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 and has really been taking place ever since. And so now the uh the charge of antisemitism is being raised against just about any critic of Israeli policy. So it no longer matters that whether somebody actually is making a legitimate criticism or whether somebody’s coming from an antisemitism place. The two are confused quite deliberately, I think, by propagandists who who serve the interests of Israeli policy. And that means a lot of the mainstream Jewish leadership in North America. […]

“When you identify with something, whether for economic or emotional or political or any combination of reasons, and you make yourself the same as that, then when that’s criticized you’re going to feel criticized. And so what I’m saying to people is: Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned. It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.

“I read a book by Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister, I think. He spent 40 years in jail as a war criminal in Spandau after the war. And, in his biography, he talks about that everybody is always asking me or my generation what we knew about what was going on; the crimes, the antisemitic and anti-people anti-human crimes of the Nazi regime. And he said, the real question is not what we knew but what we could have known had we wanted to find out. And he gives a couple of examples which are more detailed now where he had very strong clues that something horrible was happening in the east (i.e., the death camps), but he never pursued the clues. He didn’t want to find out. He didn’t actually know. I believe he didn’t know, but he could have known. He didn’t want to know.

“Now that’s the same dilemma for all of us The difference being that these days you can read the Israeli histories of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, there’s a book called the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Illam Pape who had to leave Israel. H lives in Britain now. He came under such hostility. You can read the articles of Gideon Levy in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that details it almost daily, the horrors of the occupation. You can go online and see any number of Israeli soldiers talk about what they had to do and how they are ashamed of what they did in the occupied territories. So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

Gabor Mate on anti-Semitism and Zionism
by Phil Ebersole

“He said he has gone through three disillusionments in his lifetime—with Hungarian Communism, with American exceptionalism and with Zionism. Disillusionment is painful, he said, but it is better to be free of illusion than a slave to it.”

Gabor Mate on the misuse of anti-Semitism and why fewer Jews identify with Israel, an interview for The Gray Zone.

America in denial: Gabor Mate on the psychology of Russiagate, an interview for The Gray Zone.  With transcript.

* * *

“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”

Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare
by Dr. Gabor Maté

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth. […]

My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

Addiction is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté

John Lavitt: Given the history of such patterns of institutionalized evil, does evil actually exist? Isn’t such evil beyond being just about childhood trauma? Having survived the Nazi genocide, aren’t you sometimes worried that it could happen again?

Gabor Maté: If you mean can it happen again, it has happened again. We have seen massacres of human beings all over the world. We have seen it in Rwanda, we have seen the Americans slaughter half a million Iraqis, we have seen Israelis slaughter Palestinian children, we have seen American soldiers wiping out men, women and children in Vietnam and get away with it, and we see the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic state in the Middle East right now. While nothing on the industrial scale of Auschwitz has happened since then, in terms of human violence, cruelty and a complete willingness to make other people suffer, that has continued ever since. 

So am I worried that something like Auschwitz will happen again? I don’t think history repeats itself in that way. But it doesn’t have to take Auschwitz. You don’t need Auschwitz for humans to be deliberately and viciously cruel to one another. We see that all the time. Now, does evil exist? Yes, evil exists. Evil not as a kind of abstract force or as an embodied devil, but as the expressions of human pain that finds some release in creating pain in others, and that’s unconscious. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says evil does not have an absolute existence, but has a relative existence rooted in the human unconscious. If you look at people who are willing to perpetrate such things, you look usually at traumatized people.

John Lavitt: […] As a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, how do you reconcile your love of your family’s tradition with such a state of affairs? Isn’t Israel similar to the survivors of trauma that you write about? How can Israel return to what you define as a lost dream?

Gabor Maté: John, I thought this was going to be an interview about addiction. Why are we talking about the Middle East?

John Lavitt: Gabor, my interviews are focused on addiction, but they are not just about addiction. I examine as much of the history and writings of the subjects that I interview, and I try to find the most engaging and powerful questions based on my findings. This root of this question is not because I have a flag to wave in terms of an agenda. Rather, when I read the article, it affected me deeply, particularly the part about wanting to ask your friend, “Can we not be sad together?” That truly moved me as a Jewish man also conflicted by the actions of Israel, thus giving rise to the question. 

Gabor Maté: Okay, I got it, John, thank you for answering my question. In relation to what you asked, you can’t return to dreams. Dreams are not real by definition. The idea that you could somehow beautifully and cleanly create a refuge for European Jews by taking away the land from the local inhabitants was never more than a dream. It could never have been done. The only way you can ever take land away from the people that live on it is to kill them or to expel them and oppress them. That’s reality. 

People were willing to do that because they thought the European Jews had suffered so much that that suffering gave them the motivation and the right to make others suffer. Right now, we are dealing with the impact of that decision, and the way it’s going, we’ll continue to deal with it for decades to come. For me, it’s not a question of returning to a dream but a question of waking up from a dream. We have to wake up from the dream that it was ever possible to find a beautiful solution to the European Jewish problem by creating suffering for people in the Middle East. We have to wake up from that dream. It was never possible. 

Not only was it never possible, the people that did it knew it was not possible. Privately, they talked about it. Publicly, they pretended otherwise. And I’m talking about going back a hundred years or more. They knew there was another people there. They knew that there was no land without a people. In terms of what that means in the present, we’re not talking about expelling Israelis, we’re not talking about any particular solution here, but if you want to find a solution, let’s wake up from the dream and certainly let’s wake up from the dream that many Jews have that you can continue to keep doing this and somehow it’s going to turn out okay. It’s not going to turn out okay. We are creating intense suffering for other, and we are going to create intense suffering for ourselves. 

* * *

From a different interview, Dr. Gabor Maté talked of Jordan Peterson’s “suppressed rage”. We were reminded of that because of his focus on trauma. Peterson obviously has unresolved issues that get projected onto others and get expressed in dark views of humanity.

Peterson makes verbal threats, writes of violent fantasies, praises bullying, claims slavery is the natural state, pushes fear-mongering, and preaches conspiracy theories. The latter is seen with his ranting about “cultural Marxism” which originated in Nazi Germany as an antisemitic conspiracy theory called Jewish Marxism or Jewish Bolshevism.

This is what is so sad about Peterson constantly warning about Nazism and portraying the left as Nazis. He is a crypto-Nazi that, because of unresolved trauma, is playing out trauma in his political visions and reactionary demagoguery. This pattern among reactionaries is sadly all too common.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Peterson gives unquestioning support to Israel. He equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. And he regularly retweets Ben Shapiro who supports war crimes against Palestinians, going so far as advocating that Gaza be carpet bombed.

Peterson believes that peacefully protesting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic oppression. Apparently, to his mind, Apartheid is freedom and the only freedom Palestinians deserve is to submit to being ruled over by those more powerful. As George Orwell put it, “Slavery is freedom.”

This is what makes Dr. Maté different in talking from experience. Peterson, as an ideologue, only knows these issues from secondhand sources and so they become fodder for his demagogic rhetoric. But to Dr. Maté, the Holocaust and Israeli Apartheid are personally real in his experience.

Early Research On the Industrial Diet

By the early 1900s, the modern diet had long been a growing concern, as it already was a topic of public debate going back a century, such as obesity and conditions like ‘nerves’. This public health issue became a moral panic with tuberculosis and neurasthenia that was linked to diet. Much of the focus was scientific study. Many vitamins and micronutrients were being discovered and researched.

Also, the industrial seed oils were being linked to ill health right from the start; although not yet understood as oxidative, inflammatory, and mutagenic. The initial observations were being made on farm animals being fed “on by-products from margarine factories”, as advised by feeding experts. It would be decades later that a mass experiment would be initiated on humans when, in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet.

The following decades after that in the post-war period would begin the public health crisis of skyrocketing rates of metabolic syndrome: obesity, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, etc. But long before that, the health decline was already becoming apparent to many, such as Dr. Weston A. Price and Dr. Francis M. Pottenger Jr, and even earlier with Dr. Claude Bernard, Dr. William Harvey, Dr. James H. Salisbury, etc. Another example of someone on the leading edge was Dr. M. J. Rowlands.

* * *

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is it a Deficiency Disease?
By M. J. Rowlands, M.D.
May 25, 1927

My clinical investigations began as far back as 1912, when I installed an X-ray apparatus with the idea of trying to find out what similarity there was in the lesions amongst my cases. In the war during 1914 and 1915 stationed at Netley. The blood-cultures and joint punctures I carried out proved sterile.

Owing to ill-health I had to relinquish the Service for some time; I returned to it again in 1916 and was given the pathological charge of three hospitals of some 2,000 patients, where I could place as many rheumatoid patients for whom I could find beds, an order being posted in the London area that all true rheumatoids were to be sent to one of my hospitals. In this way I was able to accumulate some 200 rheumatoids and keep them for investigation. But with all this opportunity and all the advantages of able assistance and cordial help for over three years, until May, 1919, nothing of great value was discoverable. In 1916 I wrote a paper which was published in the Lancet1 giving the results of my investigations up to that time.

After the war I again took up the investigation of this disease chiefly owing to my farming instinct. The question of vitamins and the work of Hopkins, Funk, Plimmer and Drummond, was being published. I began to experiment with pigs, as I found that a large number of my pigs which were bred on the open-air system were from time to time suffering from marked stiffness and swollen joints. I began to feed my animals on a full vitamin diet and the result of these experiments was marvellous. There was a complete change in the condition of my herd and I decided to show my experimental animals at the largest Fat Stock Show in the world-namely, Smithfield. The result of the first time of showing was every possible prize that I could have won as well as the Cup. This gave me ample proof that in animals’ malnutrition lay the seat of investigation. In 1921 I read a paper before the Farmers’ Club at the Surveyors’ Institute discussing my experiments. Professor T. B. Wood, of Cambridge, and Dr. Crowther, Principal of the Harper Adams College, who opened the discussion, ridiculed all my experiments, and the whole idea of vitamins, and, in fact, the only member of the audience who agreed was Lord Bledisloe. To-day I think both Professor Wood and Dr. Crowther are aware of the value of vitamins and now admit their use to the British farmer. […]

I had by me all the notes of an experiment I had carried out a few years previously. Feeding experts were constantly advising farmers-and are doing so to-day-to feed their pigs on by-products from margarine factories, such as palm kernels, coco-nut, earth-nut, soya beans, etc. So I placed three pens of pigs on these foods as a test, using against them a food containing meat, yeast, cod-liver oil and a salt mixture, the carbohydrate content of the diet being the same in all the pens. Within a few weeks it became apparent that the pigs on a diet of palm-kernel and coco-nut were rapidly going downhill; and at the end of the test the pigs fed on my mixture had increased by 143 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increase in weight had consumed 2 * 62 lb., whereas the ” palm kernel pigs ” had increased only 40 lb., and for every 1 lb. of increased weight they had consumed 5 lb. The palm kernel pigs showed a vitamin B deficiency. […]

In dealing with the deficiency of vitamin B in cases of rheumatism, Dr. Rowlands’ paper was convincing and dramatic, but the relationship between this deficiency and the various forms of rheumatism was not clearly shown. Whereas it was probably a factor in rheumatoid arthritis, the co-relation was not evident in either osteo-arthritis, with its prevailing characteristic of robustness, or in the climacteric type associated with thyroid deficiency. Possibly there were other vitamin deficiencies-an “A” deficiency and probably a “D” deficiency-concerned in the control of phosphates, […]

Rheumatoid arthritis was certainly a deficiency disease, and the deficiency was connected with the assimilation or utilization of phosphoric acid and other phosphates, so that probably vitamins B and D were often associated with it. Rheumatoid arthritis never attacked the bon viveur or the alcoholic, but was the disease of the total abstainer, the vegetarian and the careful liver. […]

An important point which none of the discussers had mentioned was the great change in our diet, not so much in our own choice of food, but in the food of the animals on which we depended so much for our own. For instance, cows used to be fed on ground oats, ground wheat, ground barley, ground rye; all these contained the essential vitamin B. To-day very few farmers gave such food to their cattle; instead, they gave cotton-seed cake, linseed cake, and all kinds of patent foods which were deficient in vitamin B, and therefore. milk was not now so good as in former days. Chickens, again, were now fed on all sorts of material, and were the subjects of intensive culture, with the result that the egg-yolk was not of the same value as formerly. Vitamin B was not an animal product, it must be supplied to the animal from some outside source.

Wild-Caught Salmon and Metabolic Health

Related to the high-fat vs low-fat debate, there is an interesting article to shake up our thinking: Study of Alaska Natives confirms salmon-rich diet prevents diabetes, heart disease. It states that, “A diet of Alaska salmon rich in Omega-3 fatty acids appears to protect Yup’ik people from diabetes and heart disease — even when the individuals in question have become obese, according to a recent study that examined eating habits and health in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region. […] Something was different, and it didn’t appear to be genetics. […] “Interestingly, we found that obese persons with high blood levels of Omega-3 fats had triglyceride and CRP concentrations that did not differ from those of normal-weight persons,” Makhoul concluded.” Now that is fascinating. There could be a lot going on with this population, but they do make for a useful comparison.

To begin, it should be noted that these Inuit/Eskimos are on average overweight, similar to other Americans. Yet they have some of the lowest rates in the world of metabolic syndrome and obesity-related diseases like diabetes. This is in spite of their no longer being entirely on a traditional diet. They are getting plenty of crappy processed and packaged foods, in line with the industrialized Standard American Diet (refined grains, high fructose corn syrup, seed oils, etc). And these native Alaskans are unhealthy in other ways, as obesity isn’t a good thing. But those large doses of healthy unoxidized Omega-3s from wild whole foods seem to be their saving grace. It is true that most Americans are getting too many inflammatory Omega-6s and increasing Omega-3s is already known to decrease inflammation. That is all the more reason to eat fresh cold water fish, assuming it’s wild-caught in clean waters (it’s too bad we’re overfishing the oceans). Or, failing that, supplements might be beneficial; including algae-based sources.

That might go against the argument of those like Dr. Paul Saladino who speculate all polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are problematic at high intake; whether Omega-6s or Omega-3s, industrial or whole, oxidized or fresh; and no matter the PUFA ratio. The argument is all PUFAs will oxidize, even in the body after consumption because the unsaturated carbon bonds are unstable in being able to pick up oxygen atoms and the body can only handle so much oxidization using its limited supply of self-produced antioxidants and dietary antioxidants. The system overwhelmed by oxidized PUFAs is unable to contain the free radicals that wreak havoc with oxidative stress. But is that excess PUFA theory true? The jury is still out on that. Even if too many PUFAs overall might still be harmful in other ways, the recent Inuit study indicates certain PUFAs maybe can’t be blamed for metabolic syndrome and such.

It would be useful to look at these Inuits’ total PUFA intake and Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, which determines inflammation levels. And one might wonder about a causal link between inflammation and insulin resistance. Of course, as Dr. Saladino would argue, it might be simpler to just remove all the processed carbs and industrial seed oils; rather than try to counteract the harm with more Omega-3s. But if your (carb-caused, stress-induced, etc) cravings or other factors beyond your control have compelled you to eat a health-destroying diet that has made you fat or otherwise metabolically unfit, not to mention inflamed and maybe with high LDL (a response to inflammation), then by all means glug down some Omega-3s as medicine. It is known to have numerous health benefits, at least for those on an unhealthy diet, including this other evidence for possibly preventing/reversing insulin resistance and diabetes. You might slowly die of some other dietary-related disease, but at least you’ll lessen a large swath of health problems and feel relatively better.

Dietary details and confounders aside, this study blows the anti-fat crowd out of the water, including those like Ted Naiman who argue for low-carb, high-protein, and moderate fat. This seriously challenges the claim that the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is dead and that it’s simply about energy excess, either carbs or fat (or both). Ben Bikman, a leading insulin expert and active researcher, still thinks the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is valid and his view appears to be supported or not contradicted, according to this data. But, if nothing else, this new evidence clearly keeps the debate undeniably alive and even more compelling, however it might remain unresolved in continuing disagreements. What is refuted is the sweeping declaration that all energy excess, though surely sometimes a valid factor, can apply to every form of dietary energy under all conditions and in all diets.

It really does matter what kind of fat one is eating. Then again, it also matters what kind of carbs (Dr. Saladino thinks honey might be metabolically different, a whole other contentious debate). Talking about macronutrients as general abstract categories may not always be helpful. Sure, many people can lose fat by restricting calories or particular macronutrients. Both low-carb, high-fat diets and low-fat, high-carb diets can cause some people to naturally reduce calorie intake because there is nothing that causes overconsumption like the fattening powerhouse of carb-fat combo. And no doubt one could choose to increase protein, instead. But even if one eats high-carb, high-fat diet and so unsurprisingly becomes obese, it doesn’t follow that metabolic syndrome is inevitable. In that case, the healthy fats might protect one against metabolic syndrome, even on an industrial diet. If this is confirmed, Omega-3s not only balance excess Omega-6s but also excess simple carbs.

This seems to imply the unoxidized Omega-3s from fresh wild-caught whole foods is maintaining insulin sensitivity, despite the fact that all those carbs typically would be causing insulin resistance. That is the really interesting part. The whole point of the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is that excess glucose in the blood eventually overtaxes the body’s capacity and throws off the hormonal system, specifically the hormone insulin but also possibly involving insulin-glucagon ratio. The hormonal system acts as locus of messaging and control for multiple other systems, including metabolism. With insulin resistance, fat simply gets stuck in fat cells and can’t be accessed. So, the individual gets hungry and eats more. Interestingly, long-term fasting can sometimes kick insulin sensitivity back in gear and so the body will start burning the fat. That mechanism described is what the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is all about. That is the theory that supposedly down for the count.

Maybe we need another theory. As countering the harm described by the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis, we could call it the fat-insulin hypothesis or, to be more specific, the Omega3s-insulin hypothesis. This might relate to how certain fats promote fat-burning, specifically in terms of Stearic fat (in tallow) which is a saturated fat, the supposedly worst fat. It apparently means eating energy as this kind of fat not only increases metabolism but encourages the release of the bodies energy stored as fat. This presumably would have to include a role of insulin sensitivity, the opposite of insulin resistance. It’s true that eating lots of Stearic acid on a high-carb industrial diet while obese and metabolically unfit might not be all that helpful. As another factor, consider that wild-caught fish would be higher in fat-soluble vitamins and micronutrients. The fat-soluble vitamins play a powerful role similar to hormones. In that case, it might be a fat-soluble-vitamin-insulin hypothesis, but that is getting a bit wordy. Context, as always, is king. Obviously, we need to get away from overly simplistic generalizations. The macronutrient model is as unhelpful as the caloric model, if not combined with more detailed knowledge.

COVID-19 and States, Lives and Jobs

In reference to the below COVID-19 graph of loss of life and jobs (per capita), someone wrote to us that the, “Lower left would appear better [i.e., more people alive and working. BDS]. Iowa was slightly lower left, but mostly in the center of all states. Hawaii had lowest excess death rate (negative), but highest job loss. West Virginia, Maine, and Indiana were well balanced.” The graph is from Hamilton Place Strategies. It is included with their brief data analysis as presented in the recent (4/18/21) article, 50 States, 50 Pandemic Responses: An Analysis Of Jobs Lost And Lives Lost, co-authored by Matt McDonald, Stratton Kirton, Matisse Rogers, and Johnny Luo. The time period for the data is unstated, which could make a difference. That aside, most of the states clump near the center; although more states tended toward higher death toll; but, of course, it’s the outliers in the four quadrants that grab one’s attention.

We didn’t initially give it much careful thought, even though such data does make one curious about what it represents, beyond some seemingly obvious observations. Here was our initial off-the-cuff response: “It maybe should be unsurprising that the most populated states struggled the most with finding a balance or, in some cases, keeping either low.” That was tossed out as a casual comment and it was assumed no explanation was necessary. But apparently it was perceived as surprising (or speculative or something) to our collocutor who asked, “Why?” This seems to happen to us a lot, in that we are so used to looking at data that we assume background knowledge and understanding that others don’t always share. It genuinely was not surprising to us, in that ‘populated’ clearly signifies particular kinds of factors and conditions. Once committed to the dialogue, we felt compelled to answer and explain. Continue further down, if you wish to see the unpacking of background info and social context that, once known, makes the graphed data appear well within the range of what might be expected.

It seemed unsurprising to us, as we’ve looked at a lot of analysis of (demographic, economic, and social science) data like this over the years. So, we’re familiar with the kinds of patterns that tend to show up and probable explanations for those patterns. But maybe it seems less intuitively obvious to others (or maybe we’re biased in our views; you can be the judge). In the original article, the authors do note some relevant correlations indicating causal factors: “States with major hospitality and tourism sectors were hit hard in terms of job loss, with the impact falling unevenly across sectors. And states that were in the first wave of infections—when the healthcare system was still learning how to treat COVID-19—fared comparatively worse on their death tolls. New York, which falls into both categories, had the worst overall outcome, with both high excess deaths and high job losses.”

The authors go on to say, “The states that emerged in the best position were Idaho, Utah, and West Virginia, all with some combination of low loss of life and low loss of employment.” Others that did reasonably well were North Carolina, Nebraska, Maine, West Virginia, Indiana, and Wyoming. I don’t recall any of these being hit early by COVID-19 outbreaks nor are they major tourist and travel destinations, other than NC to some extent. It could also be noted that all are largely rural states, if not as rural as they were last century, but still way more rurally populated (or rather less urbanized with fewer big cities and metropolitan areas) than states that had it rough in soaring death and jobless rates: New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, etc. It comes down to a divide between more and less urbanized, and hence more and less populated and dense. That has much to do with the historical economic base that determined how many people, over the generations, have moved to a state and determined their residential location.

As for the really obvious observations, there is the typical clear divide between North and South. Many liberty-minded Southern states, with historically high rates of total mortality and work-related mortality (along with historically overlapping classism and racism), were tolerant of sacrificing the lives of disproportionately non-white workers during a pandemic, particularly when it kept the economy going and maintained corporate profits for a mostly white capitalist class (see: Their Liberty and Your Death). ln general, all of the Deep South and Southwest states, along with most of the Upper South states, had above average death tolls (with MS, AL, AZ, and SC leading the pack); whether or not they kept job losses low, although they did mostly keep them down. All of the states that sacrificed jobs to save lives are in the North (AK, RI, MN, MA, etc) or otherwise not in the South (HI), be it caused by intentional policy prioritization or other uncontrollable factors (e.g., reduced tourism). Northern industrial states, as expected, took the biggest economic hit.

As for the initial point we made, larger populations that are more concentrated create the perfect storm of conditions for promoting the spread of contagious diseases. This represents numerous factors that, though any single factor might not be problematic, when all factors are taken together could overwhelm the system during a large-scale and/or long-term crisis. That typically describes states with large cities and metropolitan areas. Look at all of the highly populated and urbanized states and, no matter what region they’re in, they are all near the top of excess deaths per capita. None of them managed to balance keeping people alive and employed, though some did relatively less worse. And it is apparent that the worst among them had the highest population density. That last factor might be the most central.

For comparison, here is the land area, population, and population density of the top 6 largest US cities, all in different states: New York City (301.5 sq mi; 8,336,817; 28,317/sq mi), Los Angeles (468.7 sq mi; 3,979,576; 8,484/sq mi), Chicago (227.3 sq mi; 2,693,976; 11,900/sq mi), Houston (637.5 sq mi; 2,320,268; 3,613/sq mi), Phoenix (517.6 sq mi; 1,680,992; 3,120/sq mi), and Philadelphia (134.2 sq mi; 1,584,064; 11,683/sq mi). New York City has about half the land as Houston and Phoenix, but has about four times the population of Houston and about seven times the population of Phoenix. So, even among the largest cities in the US and the world, there are immense differences in population density. States like Texas and Arizona have encouraged urban sprawl which, though horrible for environmental health, does ease the pressure of contagious disease spread.

This particular pattern of public health problems is seen all the way back to the first era of urbanization with the agricultural revolution when populations were concentrating, not sprawling. It wasn’t merely the nutritional deficiencies and such from change in the agricultural diet. The close proximity of humans to each other and to non-human animals allowed diseases to mutate more quickly and spread more easily (a similar probable reason for COVID-19 having originated in China with wilderness encroachment, habitat destruction, and wild meat markets). Many new diseases appeared with the rise of agricultural civilizations. Even diseases like malaria are suspected to have originated in farming populations before having spread out into wild mosquitoes and hunter-gatherer tribal populations. Even in modern urbanization, humans continue to live closely to and even cohabitate with non-human animals. This is why populations in New England, where indoor cats are common, have high rates of toxoplasmosis parasitism, despite a generally healthy population.

Plus, at least in the US, these heavily urbanized conditions tend to correlate with high rates of poverty, homelessness, and inequality (partly because most of the poor left rural areas to look for work in cities where they became concentrated) — these high rates all strongly correlated to lower health outcomes, particularly the last, inequality. Of the only four states with above average economic inequality in the US, three of them (NY, LA, CA) had all around bad COVID-19 outcomes, with only high inequality Connecticut escaping this pattern by remaining moderate on job losses and excess deaths. As expected, the states that did the best in keeping both low were mostly low inequality. Other than two in the mid-range (WV, NC), all of the other cases of COVID-19 success are among the lowest inequality states in the country — according to ranking: 1) UT, 4) WY, 7) NE, 12) ID, 13) ME, and 15) IN. All of the top 10 low inequality states were low in COVID-related mortality and/or unemployment. That result, by the way, is completely predictable as it matches decades of data on economic inequality and health outcomes. It would be shocking if this present data defied the longstanding connection.

By the way, rural farm and natural resource states tend to be low inequality, whether or not they are low poverty, but research shows that even poverty is far less problematic with less inequality — as economic inequality, besides being a cause or an indicator of divisiveness and stress, correlates to disparities in general: power, representation, legacies, privileges, opportunities, resources, education, healthy food, healthcare, etc (probably entrenched not only in economic, political, and social systems but also epigenetics; maybe even genetics since toxins and other substances, such as oxidized seed oils in cheap processed foods, can act as mutagens which can permanently alter inherited genes; and so inequality gets built into biology, individually and collectively, immediately and transgenerationally). Certain economic sectors tend toward such greater or lesser inequities, and this generally corresponds to residential patterns. But the correlation is hardly causally deterministic, considering the immense variance of inequality among advanced Western countries with more similar cultural and political traditions (party-based representative democracies, individualistic civil rights, and relatively open market economies).

The economic pattern is far different between rural states and urban states, specifically mass urbanization as it’s taken shape over the generations, and it has much to do with historical changes (e.g., factories closed in inner cities and relocated to suburbs and overseas). In big cities, many large populations of the poor (disproportionately non-white) have become economically segregated and concentrated together in ghettoes, old housing, and abandoned industrial areas (because of generations of racist redlining, covenants, loan practices, and employment). These are the least healthy people living in the least healthy conditions (limited healthcare, lack of parks and green spaces, lead toxicity, air pollution, high stress, food deserts, malnutrition, processed foods, etc), all strongly tied to COVID-19 comorbidities. In these population dense and impoverished areas, there is also a lack of healthcare infrastructure and staffing that is especially needed during a public health crisis, and what healthcare exists is deficient and underfunded.

To complicate things, such densely populated areas of mass urbanization make public health difficult because there are so many other factors as well. Particularly in American cities with immigrant and ethnic residents historically and increasingly attracted to big cities, additional factors include diverse sub-populations, neighborhoods, housing conditions, living arrangements, places of employment, social activities, etc. And all of these factors are overlapping, interacting, and compounding in ways not entirely predictable. This might be exacerbated by cultural diversity, since each culture would have varying ways of relating to issues of health, healthcare, and authority figures; such as related to mask mandates, vaccination programs, etc. It would be challenging to successfully plan and effectively implement a single statewide or citywide public health policy and message; as compared to a mostly homogeneous small population in a small rural state (or even a mostly homogeneous small population in a small urban country).

Also, disease outbreaks in big cites and metropolitan areas are much harder to contain using isolation and quarantines, as many people live so close together in apartment buildings and high-rises, particularly the poor where larger numbers of people might be packed into single apartments and/or multiple generations in a single household, and that is combined with more use of mass public transit. This came up as an issue in some countries such as in Southern Europe. Italians tend to live together in multigenerational households and tend to take in family members when unemployed. Combined with poverty, inequality, and policies of economic austerity, the Italian government’s struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic made it stand out among Western countries, such that it early on showed potential risks to failing to quickly contain the pandemic. But, in many ways, it might have been as much or more of a sociocultural challenge than a political failure.

On the completely opposite extreme, the Swedish have the highest rate in the world of people living alone, but also some of the lowest poverty and inequality in the world. So, even though Sweden is heavily urbanized (88.2%), contagious disease control is easier; particularly with an already healthy population, universal healthcare, and a well-funded public health system (no economic austerity to be found in Swedish social services). Indeed, they only had to implement moderate public measures and, with a high trust culture, most of the citizenry willingly and effectively complied without it becoming a politicized and polarized debate involving a partisan battle for power and control. By the way, Sweden has a national population only slightly above NYC but less than the NYC metro. Of Nordic cities, Stockholm is the largest in area and the most population dense: total density (13,000/sq mi), urban density (11,000/sq mi), and metro density (950/sq mi). New York City has about two and a half times that urban density.

Then again, all of that isolated urbanization takes it’s toll in other ways, such as a higher suicide rate (is suicide contagious?). It is one of the most common causes of death in Sweden and the highest rate in the West; in the context of Europe being one of the most suicidal continents in the world, although it’s Eastern Europe that is really bad. Among 182 countries, Sweden is 32nd highest in the world with 13.8 suicides per 100,000; compared to Italy at 142nd place with 5.5 suicides per 100,000. That is two and half times as high. But, on a positive note, COVID-19 seems to have had no negative impact in worsening the Swedish suicide epidemic (Christian Rück et al, Will the COVID-19 pandemic lead to a tsunami of suicides? A Swedish nationwide analysis of historical and 2020 data), as presumably being socially isolated or at least residentially isolated is already normalized. If anything, suicidal inclinations might become less compelling or at least suicide attempts no more likely with the apparently successful response of the Swedish government to COVID-19, especially combined with the Swedish culture of trust. Not that global pandemic panic and local pandemic shutdown would be a net gain for Swedish mental health (Lance M. McCracken et al, Psychological impact of COVID-19 in the Swedish population: Depression, anxiety, and insomnia and their associations to risk and vulnerability factors).

So, theoretically, public health during pandemics doesn’t necessarily have to be worse in large dense urban areas, as other factors might supersed. But, unfortunately, it apparently was worse in the US under present (social, economic, and political) conditions, however those conditions came about (a whole other discussion barely touched upon here). Many of the states that fared badly are massively larger than Sweden. As seen with New York City, the US has cities and metros that are larger than many countries in the world. These unique conditions of not merely mass urbanization but vast urbanization have never before existed in global history. The US population now in the COVID-19 outbreak is more than three times larger than during the 1918 Flu. The five boroughs of NYC have almost doubled in population over the past century with Queens almost five times as populated, and surely the NYC metro area has increased far more.

Places like Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City are hubs in immense systems of commerce, transport, and travel with heavily used airports and sea ports, interstate highways and railways, a constant flow of people and products from all over the country and the world (the rise of mass world travel and troop transport was a key factor in the 1918 Flu, helping it to mutate and spread in the deadly second and third waves). Systems thinking and complexity theory have come up in our studies and readings over the years, including in discussions with our father whose expertise directly involves systems used in businesses and markets, particularly factory production, warehousing, and supply chains. Those are relatively simple systems that can to varying degrees be analyzed, predicted, planned, and controlled. But massive and dense populations in highly connected urban areas are unimaginably complex systems with numerous confounding factors and uncontrolled variables, unintended consequences and emergent properties. Add a pandemic to all of that and we are largely in unknown territory, as the last pandemic in the US was over a century ago when the world was far different.

Also, there is there is the issue of how systems differ according to locations and concentrations of various demographics, specifically in contrasting the privileged and underprivileged. That goes back to the issue of poverty, inequality much else. A major reason we’ve had so many problems is because most politicians, lobbyists, media figures, public intellectuals, and social influencers involved in the ‘mainstream’ debate that gets heard and televized are living in separate comfortable, safe, and healthy communities, as separate from both the rural and urban masses, particularly separate from minorities, the poor, and the working class (see: Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown). We could note that the individual who originally showed us the graphed data, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, is of this typical demographic of wealthier urban white who has never personally experienced impoverished population density (AKA slums or ghettoes). And even though urban, like us, he lives in this same rural state with clean air surrounded by open greenspace of parks, woods, and farms; not to mention being smack dab in the middle of the complete opposite of a food desert. This could be why our reference to ‘populated’ states could gain no purchase in his mind and imagination.

Obviously, as complex systems, the densely populated big cities and metros described above aren’t isolated and insular units, contained and controlled experiments. Their populations and economies are inseparable from the rest of the global society, even more true in this age of neoliberal globalization. That would complicate pandemic response in dealing alone with either excess deaths per capita or job loss per capita, but that would exacerbate further the even greater complexity of finding a balance between the two. When these major centers of industrial production, service industry, commerce, trade, transportation, marketing, and finance get shut down (for any reason) and/or when other closely linked major centers get shut down, it severely cripples the entire economy and employment of the state, even ignoring the potential and unpredictable pandemic threat of overwhelmed hospitals, death toll, and long-term health consequences. Economic and public health effects could ripple out and in with secondary and tertiary effects.

It’s not anything like less populated rural farm states and natural resource states where, no matter what is going on in the rest of the country and world, the local population is more isolated and the local economy usually keeps trucking along. The Iowa economy and housing, for example, was barely affected by the 2008 Recession. Indeed, for all its failed state leadership in dealing with COVID-19, low inequality and low poverty Iowa was below average on both job losses and excess deaths. So, if Iowa could do better than most states, in spite of horrible leadership by the Trump-aligned Governor Kim Reynolds (even our Republican parents despise her handling of the crisis), maybe governments in other states also don’t necessarily deserve as much of the blame or credit they are given, at least not in terms of the immediate pandemic response, although long-term public health planning and preparation (over years and decades) would still be important.

That is to say, the situation is complicated. Yet we seem to know what are some of the key complications, however entangled they may be as potentially causal or contributing. It’s a large web of factors, but strong correlations can be discerned, all of it mostly following already known patterns, but of course we are biased in what we notice according to our focus. The data gathered and analyzed this past year, as far as we can tell, is not fundamentally different in nature than any other data gathered and analyzed over the past century. So, even though COVID-19 is a highly unusual event, what is seen in the data isn’t likely to be surprising, even if requiring multiple layers and angles of interpretation. Still, unexpected results would be welcome in possibly indicating something new and interesting. Serious study of this pandemic has barely begun. The data will keep rolling in. Then decades of debate and theorizing will follow. Some of the observations offered here might to varying degrees stand the test of time, such as the well-established inequality links, but surely much of it might prove false, dubious, misleading, or partial. Many questions remain unanswered and, in some cases, unasked.

Enclosure of the Mind

“[T]he chief matter . . . being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in, and carries with it all the rest.

John Locke, Two Treatises

“Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave …
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
I sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came.”

John Clare, The Mores

“Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.

Sitting Bull

The time has arrived when we should definitely make up our minds to recognize the Indian as an individual and not as a member of a tribe. The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual.

Teddy Roosevelt, Address to Congress

The early modern period saw the legal push for land enclosure, privatization, and consolidation. It became a powerful force in the 18th century, which destroyed the ancien regime, destabilized the social order, and precipitated revolts and eventually revolution. This was central to Enlightenment thought in the creation or exacerbation of Jaynesian consciousness, post-bicameral nostalgia, Platonic/Cartesian anxiety, atomistic individualism, capitalist realism, social Darwinism, and WEIRD culture. In a short period of time, land reform, agricultural improvements, and technological advancements led to the first dependable grain surpluses, particularly the increase of wheat production, the sudden availability and affordability of white flour, and the industrial development of the high-carb standard American diet (SAD). Also, with colonial trade, tobacco, tea and sugar replaced local smoking herbs and herb-infused beer. Heading into the 19th century and continuing into the next, all of this combined might have contributed to the disappearance of the fairies and the emergence of a crisis of identity, followed by moral panic along with the rise of widespread mental illness and drug addiction and other diseases of civilization, which continues to worsen, not to mention increasing rates of such things as autism — all of it central to what one could call the agricultural mind, exacerbated by mass urbanization, industrialization, and big ag.

This is an ongoing line of speculation, but the land enclosure angle is somewhat new. We’ve previously written about the enclosure movement, privatization and the loss of the Commons, as it obviously is one of the most central changes in recent history, arguably key to understanding nearly all other changes in modernity. It coincided not only with capitalism, corporatism, and industrialization but also colonial imperialism and its vast trade network. There really is no way of comphrehending what all the fuss was about, from the English Peasants’ Revolt to the English Civil War to the American Revolution, without knowing how feudalism was forcefully and violently dismantled not by the peasants and serfs but by aristocrats and monarchs. Other economic practices and systems were seen as more profitable or otherwse attractive. Eliminating the feudal system of parishes and commons, for example, eliminated all of the inconvenient social obligations and traditional roles of noblesse oblige that constrained power according to the authorizng precedence of living tradition and custom. Part of the complaint of some aristocrats, including the more radical-minded like Thomas Jefferson, was that the ancien regime was perceived as oppressively confining to everyone, including the aristocracy. But to destroy that old order meant creating something radically new in its place, which would involve new subjectivities, identities, and roles.

That was the self-enforced task set before the Enlightenment thinkers and later reformers. Individuality and independence was praised, but some at the time admitted to or hinted at the fact that these were not natural law and human birthright. They had to be artificially created. First off, let’s set down a distinction: “Like social constructionism, social constructivism states that people work together to construct artifacts. While social constructionism focuses on the artifacts that are created through the social interactions of a group, social constructivism focuses on an individual’s learning that takes place because of his or her interactions in a group” (Wikipedia). Another way of thinking about this was described by Richard M. Doyle: “The philosopher Louis Althusser used the language of “interpellation” to describe the function of ideology and its purchase on an individual subject to it, and he treats interpellation as precisely such a “calling out.” Rather than a vague overall system involving the repression of content or the production of illusion, ideology for Althusser functions through its ability to become an “interior” rhetorical force that is the very stuff of identity, at least any identity subject to being “hailed” by any authority it finds itself response-able to” (Darwin’s Pharmacy). A social artifact, once socially constructed, offers an affordance that unconsciously enforces the authorization of social constructivism through the interpellation of calling out a particular behavioral subjectivity we become identified with in responding. So, to give a concrete example, we are enacting the propertied self when, after seeing a no trespassing sign, we don’t cross a fence. We’ve been hailed by the authorization of an implicit ideological realism that makes a claim over us, constraining not only our behavior but more importantly our identity. But that response has to be taught, modeled, and internalized — fences and walls, like roads and sidewalks, become the infrastructure emblazoned upon the mind.

This civilizing process was more starkly apparent at the beginning of modernity because so much of what we take for granted, within this dominant ideological realism, did not yet exist. To establish private landholdings was necessary to form the structure for the propertied self, far beyond mere self-ownership in not being a slave (i.e., liberty). The danger, to the emerging capitalist class, was that there were competing structures of identity with the communal self and bundled mind that continued to assert itself. Consider the elite intellectual William Godwin (1756–1836) who saw “associations as constructing their members’ subjectivities, not merely directing their energies incorrectly,” writes Robert Anderson. “In this sense, then, associations are analagous to what Louis Althusser calls Ideological State Apparatuses which provide material rituals and practice, which subjects recognize themselves. Unlike Althusser’s state apparatuses, which hail subjects as individuals, political associations, in Godwin’s view, construct a “common mass” subject, in which subjects are undifferentiated one from another. Since, as Sayer and Corrigan argue, the construction of subjectivity is central to the success of a nation-state, this function of political associations is no trivial matter” (“Ruinous Mixture”: Godwin, Enclosure and the Associated Self). Those like Godwin thought collectivities were a bad thing, since individualistic propertied elites such as himself represented the ideal in his utopian ideology. During this same era, George Washington warned of the threat of politcal parties and one wonders if he had similar worries on his mind, considering his treatment of the collective action of Shays’ Rebellion. Robert Anderson explains what this entails:

“The Enclosure Movement, which yokes the realms of the subject and of property, gives some historical grounding for Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject, which describes the psychic imperatives that drive the subject to distinguish itself from a “common mass.” This force, I am suggesting, determines the movement towards the enclosure of both the commons and the “self.” It concerns an anxiety about the “clean and proper” (“le propre”) boundaries of the self (“le propre”). The subject is constructed through a process of exclusion and boudnary-defense which involves an attempt ot ensure the singularity and integrity of the self within its boundaries, and an attempt to protect those boundaries of the self—not merely the self, but the boundaries themselves. Abjection names the proces of “exclusion” through wich “‘I’ expell myself” from indifferentiation and wildness/animality. The abject, then, threatens to “engulf” the subject because it is a reminder of what it must push aside in order to live. We can se this at work in Young’s claim that enclosure transformed the country from “boundless wilds and uncultivated wastes” into “well-peopled” “inclosures . . . cultivated in a most husband-like manner . . . and yielding an hundred times times the produce.” It is to guard against the “ruinous Effects of a Mixture of opposite Interests” and the “untidiness” of common and use-rights, that enclosure takes place. It cleans and distinguishes le propre—the self, the property—from the “improper.” In his chapter on “The Principles of Property,” Godwin argues that property performs this very function. In spite of the great injustices it causes, the right to property is so “sacred” that no exertion or sacrifice to protect it can be too great (2.440-50). It creates an “essential” “sphere” which protects man from outside intervention, thereby freeing up a space for the operation of “private judgment,” which is necessary for the improvement of man” (2.433). This improvement is threatened if the self is not protected from being “resolve[d] . . . into one common mass” (1.289). Abjection, then, is the psychological engine for improvement.

“The history of enclosure bears out Kristeva’s argument that abjection is ultimately a reliance on the law, which “shapes the body into a territory protected by the “differentiations of proper-clean and improper-dirty” (72). Thompson reveals the extent to which “reasons of improvement” had acquired the status of legal terminology, in particular as a justification for the enclosure of the commons (“Custom” 134-60 passim). A. W. B. Simpson’s A History of Land Law articulates the historical change from “communal rights” of the commons to individual rights, which both made possible and were produced by the enclosure: “[t]he tenurial system converted the villagers [who used the land as common village property] into tenants, and the theory of the law placed the freehold of most of the lands of the manor in the lord. . . . Thus a theory of individual ownership supplants earlier more egalitarian notions” of property. And with this change, common rights came to be seen as having originated “in the grant of the lord,” rather than as a “customary rights associated with the communal system of agriculture practiced in primitive village communities.” In cases where enclosure was contested, however, court rulings often reversed the implicit chronology of “improvement” to suggest that enclosure was the natural state of property rather than an innovation.”

This demonstrates how the conservative authority of hierarchical individualism usurped the role of traditional authority of the ancestral commons, the latter a vestige of archaic authorization of the bicameral mind. The historical revisionism of the conservative project of individualistic privatization hints at the underlying reactionary mind that fuels the radical transformation through the invented tradition of ideological realism dressed up in robes from the wardrobe of moral imagination, proclaiming it has always been this way and putting a narratized spell of historical amnesia upon Jaynesian consciousness — and so individuality erases the evidence of its own origins, like the scaffolding removed from a cathedral after being built by thousands of laboerers over centuries. The threat of collective action of worker associations, labor unions, etc is not that they represent something radically and entirely new but that they are old impulses/habits carried over from the lingering habitus of the ancien regime and traditional communities that keep challenging the radical modernity of reactionary conservatism. The conservative counterrevolution is itself revolutionary, as it is also authoritarian. As noted many times before, the ideology of independence of hyper-individualism is inseparable from dependence of authoritarianism (as violently oppressive militarism, totalitarianism, imperialism, and statism) — concentrated and centralized power, concentrated and centralized land ownership, concentrated and centralized psychic energy (withdrawn form the common world-self and enclosed). It requires concerted political effort and monopolization of violence to break apart communal land and identity. The capitalist self of hyper-individualism began with the wealthy elite precisely because they were the initial beneficiaries of the enclosure movement. They were enclosing not only land but their own minds and selves from the ancient common mass of the lingering traces of the bicameral mind. Many were thinking about these issues.

Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine’s land reform proposals are as much, if not more, about selfhood and social identity as they are about economics (the elimination of entail and primogeniture was intended as a direct attack on aristocracy). Neither trusted an elite to control all land and all benefits from land but they (fatalistically?) accepted that the enclosure movement was irreversible or necessary for the society that was being created, even as they acknowledged the loss of freedom as demonstrated by Native Americans who could act freely precisely because they were acting within a commons (Benjamin Franklin also made such observations about the greater indigenous freedom and its attraction). These specific founders wanted to make all individuals either land owners (Jefferson’s yeoman farmers as republican citizens) or beneficiaries of land ownership (Paines’s citizens dividend), in both cases a response to the enclosure movement as it encroached in on the New World through land consolidation. Self-development had been limited to the elite, but what if self-development could be made available to all. The most radical challenge of Enlightenment thought was that all of humanity, even women and the poor and non-Europeans, shared a common human nature and that self-cultivated individuality was a universal potential, while others saw it as a necessary demand and obligation (develop an individual self or be punished). Like these two, Adam Smith thought inequality opposed a free society of individual citizens. And for this reason, Smith worried that, as opposed to agriculture, the new industrial labor might dumb down the population and so public education was necessary. Without land to cultivate as part of Jeffersonian republicanism, society would have to teach other methods of self-cultivation. Godwin likewise was concerned with education motivated by a belief that every individual should independently research, analyze, and assess everything for themselves; such deification of individualism being an impossible ideal, of course; but that apparently was of no great concern to him beause he was of a less practical bent, as opposed to Jefferson and Paine’s aspirations to offer real world solutions. From Godwin’s perspective, the point was to create and enforce individualism, including actively destroying collectivities, and then everything else would presumably fall into place.

Godwin opposed the commoners re-creating the ancient practice of the commons for the very reason it was such a natural and deeply entrenched impulse within the shared psyche. Later on, it would be the same reason collective adoptions had to be illegalized to destroy Shaker communities, collective land ownership had to be constrained to weaken Hutterite communities, and collective labor unions had to be busted to shatter working class communites. Individualism isn’t created only one time in the past but must be constantly re-created through the policies and actions of government, the punishment and coercion of law, and the encouragement of incentives and subsidies. Individualism is such a weak, unstable, and unnatural state that it would break apart without constantly being shored up and defended. The modern psyche is ever seeking to return to its origins in the bundled mind of bicameralism, animism, or some other variant. The inherent failure of individualism is regularly affirmed by how individualist realism is entirely dependent on collectivist institutions of state governments, state-created corporate charters, etc — such as giving greater rights, privileges, benefits, power, autonomy, and representation to corporate persons than to most individual humans. We are suffused with an authoritarian collectivism that is the actual system behind the charade of individualism. As with Edmund Burke, Godwin’s fear of combinations, mixings, and associations — the undifferentiated masses — expressed a fear of the impure and disorderly; like an obsessive-compulsive child forever lining up her toys and panicking whenever anyone touches them. This is the demand for principled consistency in the WEIRD mind, but the only principle is order for the sake of order, as demonstration of hierarchical power to assert the authority that authorizes ideological realism. It must be an enforced order because the ancient organic orders of tribe, kinship, village, commons, etc or the grassroots organizing of communities and workers can’t be trusted because it can’t be controlled hierarchically through centralized authority and concentrated power. When the last traces of bicameral voices have been silenced, conservatives see hierarchy as the only authority left to command authorization, be it the hierarchy of Klan, church, military, or something similar.

Hierarchy, though, can only accomplish this if it has been narratized and internalized, by way of the interpellation of symbolic conflation where an ideological realism recedes from consciousness in becoming the calcified frame of thought and perception. This was what made the enclosure movement essential in reifying an abstract ideology. It had to be imprinted upon not only the human psyche but the land itself, the literal ground of psyche as our embodied sense of place. The early land reforms rigidified boundaries, regimented land ownership, and systematized infrastructure — roads were straightened and waterways channelized. As the echoes of the living bicameral voices of ancestral spirits were transformed into the written word as the “dead hand” of corpses (i.e., widespread literacy), the soil became mere dust and land mere property with the earth being mapped and bounded. Some traditions such as Quaker living constitutionalism sought to hold onto the remnants, as part of the memory of a former British communalism. The living landscape invoked by Australian Aborigines maybe was not so different than the English practice of beating the bounds and wassailing that reinforced a collective enclosure of a shared subjectivity. Once the commons were gone, there were no bounds of the commons left to be ritually beat as a community nor communal lands inabited by spirits to be wassailed. Land reform was social reform and moral reform. Godwin’s described education of the mind like the cultivation of enclosed land, which reminds one that Lockean land rights were defined not merely by use but by cultivation or improvement of enclosed land (including John Locke’s consitutional defense of slavery; propertied self going hand in hand with the embodied self literally being property to be owned; though Locked suggested a vague qualification about how much could be enclosed, which meant the rich could accumulate vast tracts of land as long as theoretically somewhere there is still land available for others), wherease the pre-Lockean land rights of Roger Williams acknowledged that any use of even non-enclosed land proved (demonstrated and expressed) ownership, which might simply have been an invocation of the old Charter of the Forest, “guaranteeing the right to commoning (recovered in 1217), which in turn recognized subsistence rights, e.g., the right to widow’s estovers (wood needed for housing repairs, implements, etc.), and to subsistence usufructs (the temporary use of another person’s land)” (Carolyn Lesjak, 1750 to the Present: Acts of Enclosure and Their Afterlife); some of the practices continuing into 19th cenury American property law and still barely hanging on today in certain Western countries.

It is intriguing to think about how recent this happened, but first consider where it began. “In the Middle Ages, fifty per cent or more of the land was commons, accessible to everybody,” says Mark Vernon (Spiritual Commons). Then the enclosures began. “Overall, the pace of enclosure rose dramatically after the 1760s as landowners turned to parliament for the legitimization of their claims,” writes Nina Mcquown. “Michael Turner estimates that more than twenty percent of the area of England was enclosed by act of parliament between 1750 and 1819, the vast majority of these acts occurring after 1760 (32). A high concentration—twenty-one percent of the whole of acreage enclosed by parliament—was enclosed in the decades between 1770 and 1780 and in the years of high grain prices during the Napoleonic wars (Yelling 16).11 Although enclosure continued until the end of the nineteenth century, by 1815 only small and discontinuous patches of common fields remained” (“Rank Corpuscles”: Soil and Identity in Eighteenth Century Representations). Then some further details from Gary Snyder: “between 1709 and 1869 almost five million acres were transferred to private ownership, one acre in every seven. After 1869 there was a sudden reversal of sentiment called the ‘open space movement’ which ultimately halted enclosures and managed to preserve, via a spectacular lawsuit against the lords of fourteen manors, the Epping Forest.” To put that in context, following the Englsh Civil War, the Glorious Revoluion reinstated the monarchy in 1688, but there now was a powerful Parliament. That Parliament would be the agent of change, beginning to take strong actions in that next century. Not only were the commons privatized for the colonies were legally constructed as for-profit corporations, along with the creation of quasi-governmental corporations like the East India Company. This led to the complaints by the colonists in demanding the king stand up to Parliament, but the monarchy no longer held the reigns of power. Capitalism was now running the show.

Even then the Charter of the Forest as the founding document of the Commons, having been established in 1217, didn’t officially end until 1971. It almost made it to the end of the Cold War and a new millennia. One might suspect the Commons seemed too communist to be allowed to survive. If it had been maintained, the people might have gotten the wrong idea about who the country belonged to. Even as the politics of it is more than relevant, what made the enclosure movement a revolutionary moment was the transformation of the Western mind. The real issue was the enclosure of the common identity and moral imagination. That is why, as colonial imperialism took hold and expanded, the rhetoric so heavily focused on the symbolic ‘wilderness’ left remaining. Though the “percentage of wastelands—forests, fens, sheep walks, and moors—enclosed and improved during the period of parliamentary enclosure was relatively small,” writes Nina McQuown, they “loomed large in the imaginations of the propagandists responsible for encouraging the expansion of both enclosure and the innovative agricultural practice that it was thought to support.” Carolyn Lesjak writes that, “If enclosure in the 16th century was largely “by agreement” and, in fact, condemned by both the church and the government, who sided with the commoners’ claims regarding “common rights,” by the 1750s the government had taken the lead and over the course of the period from 1750-1830 passed over 4000 Acts of Enclosure, resulting in over 21% of the land (approximately 6.8 million acres) being enclosed (see Ellen Rosenman’s BRANCH essay on “Enclosure Acts and the Commons”). By the end of the century, virtually all the open fields in Britain were gone.” Everything had to be cultivated, even what was deemed useless. All material was to be fodder for improvement and progress, at least in the new mythos. “After the 1760s,” McQuown explains, as the “British improvers turned the logic and language of colonialism inward, towards the wastes,” they also turned inward to colonizing the uncultivated mind.

This makes one realize how false it is to blame everything on the later political revolutions and freethinking radicals. The enclosure movement actually began much earlier around the 14th century, around the time of the English Peasants’ Revolt. Even Parliaments’ legal justifications and enforcement happened generations before the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. This reform of land, self, and mind unsurprisingly preceded and then overlapped with the early modern revolutions. John Adams famously wrote that, “What do We mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen Years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington. The Records of thirteen Legislatures, the Pamphlets, Newspapers in all the Colonies ought be consulted, during that Period, to ascertain the Steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the Authority of Parliament over the Colonies.” His only error was limiting his scope to the colonies and not pushing it further back. Enclosure of land became reform of mind became revolution of society became rupture of history. The cultivation of farming that once followed astrological cycles of return (i.e., revolution) had ground down the bones of the dead into dust. Humanity was uprooted from the past and temporally dislocated in an abstract narrative, as cyclical time became linear and nostalgia became a disease. The colonists surely experienced this most clearly in how the early waves of colonists largely consisted of the most destitute landless peaseants, many recently evicted from the commons and feudal villages, often arriving as slave-like indentured servants and convict labor — one can imagine the desperation and despair they felt, as being sent to the early colonies was practically a death sentence.

The colonial era may seem like a distant time from the present, but we can sense how the world we now live in was shaped then. Most Westerners remain landless peasants. The commons that once defined a communal experience of reality only remain like the shadows of a nuclear blast, the traces of a living world that remains our ancient inheritance, however cut off we have become. It may seem the egoic boundaries of our individualism have toughened into place like scars, like the crust of parched earth. We feel tired and anxious from the constant effort of mainaintiaing the walls of our mind, to keep the self separate from the world. It takes only a moment’s lapse when our guard is let down before we begin to sense what we have lost. An aching tenderness remains below. We are so hungry for connection that simply stepping into the commons of a forested park can feel like a spiritual experience for many people today. Yet such moments are mere glimpses too often quickly forgotten again. We have no shared experience, no living memory to draw from. We have no solid ground to stand upon. And the path to a different world that existed in the past has been gated shut. Or so it seems. But is that true? Where else could we be but in the world? Nature knows no boundaries nor does the human psyche, if we root down deep enough into our own soil. There is no sense of self without a sense of place for we mould ourselves out of the clay, as we breathe the dust of our ancestors.

Landscape is memory, and memory in turn compresses to become the rich black seam that underlies our territory.

Alan Moore, Coal Country, from Spirits of Place

Ever place has its own… proliferation of stories and every spatial practice constitutes a form of re-narrating or re-writing a place… Walking [into a place] affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects… haunted places are the only ones people can live in.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

* * *

“Ruinous Mixture”: Godwin, Enclosure and the Associated Self
by Robert Anderson

In this argument, I turn on its head Godwin’s claim that the right to private property “flows from the very nature of man.” While Godwin argues that the right to property is “founded” on the “right of private judgment” which “flows from the very nature of man” (2.169-70), I will argue that this argument runs counter to his notion that private property “unavoidably suggests some species of law” to guarantee it (2.439). To be more specific, I argue that Godwin’s defense of the “sacred” and “essential” “sphere” surrounding the self (1.1.70, 1.257), which is necessary to potect it from being “resolved . . . into the common mass” (1.289), draws upon the conceptual framework which informs the rhetoric of the Enclosure Movement. In particular, I note his argument that cutting off the individual from the “common mass” is necessary for “improvement”—another term for enclosure. [….]

Part of his “extensive plan of freedom” involved the socialization of the self and (ideally) property and the rejection of all restraints on individual liberty; his “reprobation,” I argue, stems from this same defense of private judgment, which can be said to serve the conservative interests of the powers that be.

  1. The Subject of the Commons

Political associatons came of age in the latter part of the eighteenth century in response to the upheavals wrought by the industrial revoltion. Associations were contesting the state’s efforts to regulate subjectivites. Albert Goodwin recounts that in 1790 in the industrial center of Sheffeld, for example, “the master scissorsmiths,” apprehensive of the collective power of striking scissor grinders, “called a general meeting of the town’s merchants and manufacturers ‘to ooppose the unlawful combinations of the scissor grinders and the combinations of all other workmen.'” The same anxiety about the collective strength of the poor which led the Sheffield city leaders to oppose combinations also led to attempts to eradicate collective landholding arrangements by enclosing the commons. Following the passage of the Private Enclosure Act of 6 June 1791, in whch 6,000 acres of commons were redistrbuted among the wealthy “local land-holders, tithe-owners and large freeholders,” an angry mob, comprising both peasants and industrial laborers, rioted, threatening to destroy “the lives and properties of the freeholders who had approved the enclosure” (165-67). The fact that the mob opposing enclosure included industrial laborers as well as peasant farmers whose land was being appropriated reveals the close connections between enclosure and industrial capitalism. Sayer and Corrigan make the connecton between enclosure, capitalism, and subjectivity in this period more explicit.

But the great catastrophe which above all pervades the eighteenth century is the acceleration of the great “freeing” of labour (and thus making labour-power) that divides wage-labouring from generalized poverty; the long movement from service to employment, from provision to production/consumption, from political theatre to the individualism . . . of the vote: enclosures.” (96)

As Marx argues, enclosure ensures that workers, expropriated from their means of subsistence, are thrust into relations of dependence on the capitalists.

Goodwin goes on to relate that the response of the commoners and laborers also took forms more organized and intellectual than rioting. “When ‘5 or 6 Mechanicks’ began to meet . . . to discuss ‘the enormous high prices of Provisions,'” they initiated the creation of political societies, associatons, for the (self-) education of the working classes (166). They attempted, in the words of one charter, “to persuade their benighted brethren to defend themselves against private and publiic exploitation by the assertion of their natural rights” (qtd. in Goodwin 167). Political societes provided laborers with an organized forum—an institution—to exert influence on the opinions of their fellow laborers, and by extension, on society at large. Godwin opposes political associations on just this account. The “interference of an organized society” to influence “opinion” is “pernicious” (2.2280. “[E]ach man must be taught to enquire and think for himself,” uninfluenced by either “sympahy or coercion,” guided only by “reason.” The “creeds” of politcal associations, on the other hand, encourage “each man to identify his creed with that of his neighbour” (1.288). He goes on to argue that sympathy, like a disease, is especially contagious among undisciplined laborers: “While the sympathy of opinion catches from man to man, especially among persons whose passions have been little used to the curb of judgment, actns may be determined upon, which the solitary reflections of all would have rejected” (1.294). Like the unenclosed commons, sympathy threatens the distinctions upone which general improvements is predicated: the “mind of one man is essentally diistinct from the mind of another. If each do not preserve his individuality, the judgment of all will be feeble, and the progress of our common understandng inexpressibly retarded” (1.236).

1790, the year the Sheffeld master scissorsmiths moved to oulaw the combinations of “grinders” and “workmen,” was also the year in which Edmund Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke reserved his greates hostility—and fear—for the “confusion” of the “swinish multitdude” (314). Reflections reveals the extent to which concerns about the collective power of the masses, the upheavals of the industrial revolution, and anxiety about the French Revolution are intertwined. The “French Revolution,” he argues, was brought about “by the most absurd and ridiculous . . . by the most contemptible instruments. Everything seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies.” And further, it is a “monstrous tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeeded, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror.” Burke’s concern about the inappropriate mixture driving the French Revolution invokes a common rhetoric for disparaging forms of life among peasants and the laboring population. It appears, as I will argue, in condemnations of the “waste” and the “ruinous . . . Mixture of opposite Interests” in the subsistence economy of the commons, and in Godwin’s critique of the tumult of political associations—both of which are seen as threats to individual integrity and “progress.” It also appears in his analysis of the “mechanism of the human mind.”

“Rank Corpuscles”: Soil and Identity in Eighteenth Century Representations
by Nina Patricia Budabin McQuown

The teleology of improvement could even stretch towards man’s transcendence of matter itself. This idea is amply represented in a notorious reverie from Godwin’s first edition of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), where Godwin projects the complete domination of matter—not only the matter of the soil, but also and especially the matter of the body—as the eventual outcome of human progress, beginning with its progress in agriculture. His logic traces a line from improved agriculture to a human transcendence of appetite, illness, and death: “[t]hree fourths of the habitable globe is now uncultivated. The parts already cultivated are capable of immeasurable improvements” (2: 861), he offers, and if we can gain control “over all other matter,” Godwin suggests,

“why not over the matter of our own bodies? If over matter at ever so great a distance, why not over matter which . . . we always carry about with us, and which is in all cases the medium of communication between that principle and the external universe? In a word, why may not man one day be immortal?” (2: 862)

Godwin’s questions are only the most succinct statement of the radical hope that is at the center of late eighteenth-century bourgeois liberalism, which, as Kramnick has argued, linked agricultural improvement to “middle-class disdain for the past, for history, and for custom” (Kramnick, “Eighteenth-Century Science” 9). For reformist thinkers, in all areas of human ambition, improvement was articulated as a break with the past and an optimistic orientation towards the future.

Even so, reformers relied on an analogy between human self-ownership and landownership that draws on inherited parallels between human bodily-economy and the social system.5 Reformers saw an obvious parallel between agriculturally improved land and the human subject, who, cut off by self-reliance from the prejudice of contemporaries as well as the inherited prejudices of the past, could “cultivate” himself towards perfection, so that, as Robert Anderson puts it, “[t]he moral economy and political economy merge in the social and semantic fields covered by ‘improvement’” (630). In the works of both Godwin and Priestley, both subjectivity and soil are divided into discrete properties whose content is to be determined by one and only one owner, protected by the integrity of the individual conscience from absorption into the “common mass” of human thought and opinion (620).6 Enclosure of both self and soil meant divestment from the influence of history—those ancient patriarchs and their prejudices—as much as from the influence of the rights of commonage. If earlier authors imagined the soil as disseminating ownership of England’s past, bearing it physically into the bodies of nationals, later eighteenth-century reformist authors often render the soil as a failed medium for the transmission of historical experience and lingering subjectivities. Such failure is, paradoxically, reinscribed as improvement. Priestley destroys the “foundation” for the prejudicial thought of the past, and Charlotte Smith, as we will see in the conclusion to this chapter, insists on a failure of communication between the present and an incomprehensible past that is buried well below reach of the ploughshare, and is in any case unworthy of transmission. Smith and Priestley deny the relevance of the past to the present because both prefer to build on a different foundation.

This chapter examines late eighteenth-century reformist representations of the soil primarily in the field of agricultural writing. It offers an analysis, first, of Arthur Young’s writing in support of the enclosure of waste soils in several works of the 1770s and 1780s. In contrast to the revolutionary rhetoric of Priestley, Godwin, and Smith, Arthur Young is usually thought of as a political conservative for his response to the French Revolution.7 Yet to call Young a conservative is to fail to appreciate common ground he shared with the likes of progressives such as Godwin and Priestley in his advocacy for enclosure and against tithes and poor rates. Moreover, in the field of agriculture at least, Young was hardly an advocate for the careful and conservative restoration of the edifice of the past. For Young, the waste spaces of Britain must be rendered into an inviting blankness empty and available enough to rival the magnetism of America’s putatively untouched interior. We start by acknowledging the ways that his arguments for the enclosure of wastelands require the figuration of Britain as Locke’s tabula rasa, ripe for human improvement, and move on to a specific discussion of Young’s descriptions of moor soils as the prototypical waste, where we find him forcibly unearthing and dispersing the evidence of other histories and interests in the soil in order to make the past available for improvement towards a progressively more fertile future. In Young’s improvement and enclosure propaganda, we can see that eighteenth-century agricultural writing does not, like Dryden’s translation of the Georgics and Defoe’s Tour in this dissertation’s chapter two, simply mediate, reframe, or cover up relics that it cannot fit into an acceptable narrative of British history, or, like Powell and Philips, allow the concept of recirculation through the soil to provide an alternative, inarticulate, and immediate relation to the past. Nor does Young, like Smollett or Tull, suggest sequestration from the violating agency of decay. Instead, Young offers an improvement that actively un-earths the past. The coherence of Young’s improved Britain is based not on a hermeneutics of repression, where fragmented and conflicting histories are buried out of sight, but on the agricultural improver’s active recycling of the past into fertile soil that will produce a better future. His texts acknowledge the tangles of historical and legal relics and material and customary restraints in and on the soil in order to enact their exhumation and dispersal. By claiming and controlling the power of putrefaction to break down and disseminate relics, Young’s improver takes over the soil’s work of decay. He releases the value of the past for the production of future goods.

In fact, Young’s program—which became the program of the new Royal Agricultural Society in 1793—was so successful that by the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape of Britain was entirely changed. With private enclosures replacing open fields formerly held in common, it was divided into subdivisions set apart by hedgerows, ditches, walls, and straight(er) roads. Where Godwin imagined a mind that could be enclosed and cultivated like soil through improvements, the poet John Clare asserted that by the first decades of the nineteenth century, that the British landscape had indeed come to imitate the private boundaries of the individual conscience. In this poem on the enclosure of his native village in Northhamptonshire, “The Moors,” for example, Clare shows,

“Fence meeting fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow, large as garden grounds,
In little parcels little minds to please,
With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease.”
(46-49)

For Clare as for others, the consonance of a private landscape and a private subjectivity came with a sense of loss, both of individual rights, and of continuity with the past, whose paths “are stopt—the rude philistine’s thrall / Is laid upon them and destroyed them all” (64-5). The sense that improvement had turned out to mean the parceling up of experience into discrete and discontinuous blocks led, for Godwin, to his eventual anxiety that the possibility of future progress had also been lost. How can men whose lives are so strongly separated engage in the communication that leads to human perfection? This anxiety motivates Godwin’s An Essay on Sepulchres (1809), a text in which Godwin ultimately abandons his advocacy for a historical soil, and proposes that dirt—literally the dust of the buried corpses of great men—could be the foundation of improvement by materializing cultural and historical continuity. Godwin’s Essay proposes a different kind of soil-fertility, land that fruits out in knowledge, experience, and sentiment instead of only food. Yet Godwin’s essay is unable to imagine an immediate and therefore openended relation between human bodies and the dust of the dead. He strives to secure stable access to corpses that are also subjects, with particular memories and ideas to represent to their living interlocutors. Intent on controlling the legacy that the past leaves for the future, Godwin can only approach the dead through the medium of their representations—both the texts they leave behind and the monuments he wants to erect at their gravesites. Ultimately, his Essay offers less a plan for the stable continuity of experience across generations, than a revelation of the limits of what representations and mediums can accomplish when they refuse the immediate agency of soil.

The Early Modern 99%
by Harry C. Merritt

Reverberations of battle are the soundtrack to developments in England at the time, where King Charles I would be executed the following year and his kingdom transformed into a commonwealth. During the course of the film, the educated and principled Whitehead is forced into labor together with the alcoholic Jacob and the simpleton Friend by O’Neill, a rogue Irishman seeking self-enrichment. […]

Not just England was in turmoil at this time — much of Europe and the growing number of territories it ruled across the globe experienced extraordinary upheaval during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Though the “General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century” thesis originally developed by Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has since been challenged and amended, a number of broad themes can still be distilled. Religious dissent and political radicalism challenged the authority of both the Catholic Church and monarchs who ruled by the grace of God. Conflicts like the Thirty Years War descended into endless nihilistic pillage and slaughter before lending themselves to the creation of the modern state system. The ruthless quest for precious metals and profits fueled the conquest of Native American peoples and the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade.

Perhaps one of the most powerful conceptualizations of this period can be found in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s book The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. According to Linebaugh and Rediker, the ruling classes imagined themselves to be the latter-day incarnation of Hercules, laboring to bring order to a chaotic world. The embodiment of their enemy was the mythological Hydra, whose many heads represented its multifarious elements: religious dissenters, radical commoners, rebellious African slaves, fiercely independent Native Americans, and freethinking women.

In the Americas and on the Atlantic, “the plebian commonism of the Old [World]” encountered “the primitive communism of the New World” and formed a hybrid, alternative vision that set itself against the emergent order of modernity. Late in A Field in England, a hallucinating Whitehead declares, “I am my own master”; this realization is precisely what the ruling classes feared most in the Hydra.

Despite its multitudes, the Hydra was ultimately unsuccessful at challenging the emerging capitalist, colonialist order of modernity. In the centuries since, it would be difficult to imagine a group that parallels the Hydra in its diversity, utopianism, and in the threat it poses to the ruling classes — that is, until today. The emergence of the 99% as a social grouping that has come to be dreaded and despised by members of the 1% reproduces the dynamics and the discourse of that era.

While a new era of globalization erodes the economic security of the vast majority of the US, the 1% and their political supporters insist that they work harder than the rest of us and thus their ownership of nearly half of the world’s wealth is for the greater good. Recently, we have been treated to numerous declarations from members of the 1% suggesting that they are under threat from the 99%.

These shrill cries about impending repression — invoking Nazism seems popular — reveal the degree to which the 1% identify with one another and fear the masses. Like the Hydra, the 99% is a rhetorical construction rather than a social formation with clear class consciousness. Its very diversity constitutes its greatest weakness. The repeated spread, defeat, and resurrection of movements like Occupy Wall Street and Spain’s indignados resemble the scattered but persistent revolts of the Hydra. Today’s Occupy activists should recall that a revolutionary conspiracy by a group of New York City laborers — black and white, slave and free — emerged in 1741 out of a waterfront tavern just blocks from today’s Zuccotti Park. With goals that are simultaneously utopian and practical, these movements appeal to both the basic needs and the deepest desires of common people around the globe. […]

Alain Badiou sees “the invariant features of every real mass movement: egalitarianism, mass democracy, the invention of slogans, bravery, the speed of reactions” embodied in both Thomas Müntzer’s movement of the 1500s and in Tahrir Square of the 2010s. As disparate groups occupy public spaces from Cairo to Madrid to New York, asserting their rights and presenting an alternative vision of their societies, we should not forget the members of the Hydra who fought against the exploitation of the ruling classes in favor of another world during the early modern period.

Some will argue that our present time is too distant to draw many practical lessons from this period. But that does not mean we cannot look to its events, personages, and symbols for inspiration. By coincidence, the rainbow flag used by today’s LGBT and peace activists bears a striking resemblance to the rainbow flag Thomas Müntzer once used to rally the German peasantry — a fitting symbol in any period for uniting a diverse coalition and insisting that another world is possible.

The Effect of Land Allotment on Native American Households During the Assimilation Era
by Christian Dippel and Dustin Frye

Toward the end of the 19th century, with the conclusion of the Indian Wars and the closing of the frontier, reformers and the U.S. government turned their attention towards the cultural assimilation of Native Americans, ninety percent of whom were living on the reservations created in the previous decades. This is signified by the famous 1892 quote: “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”1 Assimilation efforts were centered on land allotment policies that broke up tribally owned reservation lands into individually owned homestead-sized land allotments. As the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) commissioner noted: “if there were no other reason [for allotment], the fact that individual ownership of property is the universal custom among civilized people of this country would be a sufficient reason for urging the handful of Indians to adopt it.” Allotment was the cornerstone of federal Indian policy beginning with the passing of the General Allotment (or ‘Dawes’) Act in 1887 until it ended with the passing of the Indian Reorganization (or ‘Howard-Wheeler’) Act (IRA) in 1934 (Carlson, 1981, p18).

When a reservation was opened for allotment, all families on the reservation were given allotments, and these allotments were held in a trust managed by the local Indian agent (the BIA’s local superintendents in charge of a reservation). Trust-status meant allottees could not sell or collateralize an allotment. In order to obtain full ‘fee-simple’ legal title for their allotment, allottees had to be declared “competent” by the BIA agent (Carlson, 1981; Banner, 2009; Otis, 2014). In short, Indian allotment was designed as a conditional transfer program aimed at cultural assimilation. The first ‘treatment arm’ was an unconditional transfer program: receiving an allotment gave the allottee the unconditional right to use the land for their own purposes, as well as the right to leasing rents. The second treatment arm was only obtained conditional on proving one’s “competence.” Allotment’s conditional transfer arm (full title) was worth almost 20 times annual per capita incomes in our data, orders of magnitude larger than modern-day conditional transfer programs. Our paper is an investigation into how individual households responded to the incentives created by this program.

We hypothesize that individual allottees responded to the allotment policy’s incentive structure by signalling cultural assimilation to the BIA agents in order to be able to obtain full property rights over their allotments. First evidence of this comes from an annual panel of reservation aggregate data from the BIA’s annual reports from 1911 to 1934. In addition to schooling, these data include very direct measures of assimilation or assimilation-signalling, namely the number of “church-going Indians” and of those “wearing civilized dress.” We combine these data with the universe of Indian allotments, which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has digitized with geo-location and issuance year. In a within-reservation over-time comparison, we find that school-attendance, the number of church-going Indians and the number of those wearing civilized dress increased in lock-step with the expansion of allotment, even after controlling for potential changes in school and clerical infrastructure.

1 Quote from a speech by Capt. Richard Pratt, founder of the first Indian boarding school. Appendix-Figure A1 shows one of the many “before/after” pictures one finds in association with the Assimilation Era.

We Are All Bleeding Heart Liberals Now

That nevere of hym she wolde han taken hede,
For which hym thoughte he felte his herte blede

Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, mid-1380s

Upon the whole, I mourned thus for her for above a month; but finding Amy still come not near me, and that I must put my affairs in a posture that I might go to Holland, I opened all my affairs to my dear trusty friend the Quaker, and placed her, in matters of trust, in the room of Amy; and with a heavy, bleeding heart for my poor girl, I embarked with my spouse, and all our equipage and goods, on board another Holland’s trader, not a packet-boat, and went over to Holland, where I arrived, as I have said.

Daniel Defoe, The Fortunate Mistress, 1724

It’s been previously argued, if somewhat jokingly, that we are all white liberals now. There are various methods for denigrating liberalism. A typical tactic is to throw in some other descriptive word to mischaracterize liberalism as an extremist ideology of a narrow minority: liberal class, liberal elite, limousine liberals, pinko liberals, and white liberals. Initially, the liberal label alone was not enough of a slur. It needed to be clarified by suggesting the true meaning of hiding some more radical ideology, perverse motive, corrupted sensibility, or out-of-touch status. The purpose is to obscure the fact of how extremely liberal has become nearly the entire American population — not only liberal but quite leftist, such that we are also all egalitarians now.

Some examples of this particular anti-leftist rhetoric originated in the early 1900s: ““Limousine liberals” is another phrase that has been attached to these comfortable nibblers at anarchy” (New York Tribune, 5 May, 1919); “pinko-liberal journal of campus opinion” (Time: the Weekly Newsmagazine, 7 Jun., 1926); “Editor Oswald Garrison Villard of the pinko-liberal Nation” (Time: the Weekly Newsmagazine, 9 Sept., 1929); “Pinko liberals—the kind who have been so sympathetic with communistic ideals” (The Mason City Globe-Gazette (Mason City, IA), 12 Jun., 1940); et cetera (What Exactly Is a ‘Liberal’?, Merriam-Webster). Maybe these were seen as the hyphenated ideologies brought by the immigrant populations of hyphenated Americans or those sympathetic to them. All ideologies were considered bad to a certain conservative mind, an attitude expressed by the Irish Edmund Burke during the French Revolution and the Southern plantation aristocracy during the American Civil War. Then, after a period of conservative decline, the rhetoric of anti-ideology ideology was resurrected and made respectable again by Russell Kirk in the early Cold War.

If all ideologies are bad, then a hyphenated ideology would be doubly dangerous. To this ideological worldview of the reactionary mind, only liberals and leftists have ideologies, not that this ever stopped conservatives from co-opting the ideological rhetoric of liberals and leftists, sometimes even to the point of calling themselves classical liberals or true liberals. But, generally, conservatives like to keep their ideological commitments obscure and vague so as to allow for plausible deniability, which is the reason why few racists ever self-identify as racists. To openly state an ideology is dangerous territory for the conservative mind because it is to admit that the ideological realism of the ruling order is socially constructed. Moral imagination is the conservative euphemism for social constructionism. The attack on the ideologies of others is a projection and distraction.

The hyphenated ideology slander was maybe more common in the past because a strong and highly organized leftist movement was a potent threat that needed to be neutralized. Now we’ve gotten to the point, after generations of Cold War propaganda and anti-leftist attacks, where such rhetorical lumping isn’t as necessary. The label of ‘liberal’ by itself has become an effective invective because all those other terms (pinko, elite, white, etc) are implied without needing to be stated. This was the result of a concerted effort to deligitimize liberalism specifically and leftism in general. It was surely part of the (now forty years’ old) New Right’s massively funded propaganda campaign involving the Shadow Network and media operations they built. They sought to promote a false narrative of the religious right as the ‘Moral Majority’. But that is a story for another day (if you’re curious, look into Joseph Coors, Paul Weyrich, Richard Wirthlin, etc). As shown above, it began much earlier than that.

There is a specific historical example to show how far left Americans have moved and how right-wing rhetoric has weakened over time. In the 1930s, one of the new rhetorcal attacks on liberals was to call them ‘bleeding hearts’, although it didn’t catch on right away (Sarah Laskow, The True Origins of the Phrase ‘Bleeding-Heart Liberal’). This political insult is an odd way of attempting to discredit the faith in loving-kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, the expression of fellow feeling and moral decency; in particular, Greco-Christian agape as unconditional love, the highest form of love through charity, and the mutual love between humanity and the divine. The symbol for selfless and sacrificial love, within the Christian tradition, was the bleeding heart. But this symbol was less familiar among American Protestants or maybe it was familiar in being associated with Catholics and hence associated with ethnic immigrants (i.e., hyphenated Americans).

Where did this use of ‘bleeding hearts’ come from? Westbrook Pegler, a newspaper columnist and mud-slinging bully, was the man who originated this as a mean-spirited taunt of humanitaranism and as a dismissive appelation to be placed upon the heads of liberals like a mocking crown of thorns. He came to use it often in his writings. But his initial use of it was to critcize the liberal movement that sought to outlaw lynching. Pegler wasn’t necessarily defendng lynching, per se, but neither was he entirely and clearly opposing it either. He merely thought that the issue of lynching was a conflict that should be locally and privately resolved between blacks and the white mobs hunting them down. Many conservatives agreed with him at the time. There is no doubt that some even suggested it was a matter of ‘states rights’.

To give some sense of what kind of guy Pegler was, consider that he joined the authoritarian, fascist, and theocratc John Birch Society, the original alt-right but admittedly popular at the time. The Bircher membership was similar to the widespread following gained by the radio host Father Charles Coughlin, another precursor to McCarthyism. By the way, it was the Birchers who claimed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist, despite Ike’s having been a social conservative, religious right advocate, and highly respected military leader (although, he did admit to being in favor of ‘liberal’ governance while preferring ‘conservatism’ for the private sector such as economics; then again, he promoted illiberalism when he put ‘In God We Trust’ on the US currency, which was the first major politicization of religion in the US presidency). Now consider that Pegler was so far radically right-wing fringe that the Birchers eventually kicked him out. So, the Birchers were to the right of the right and Pegler was further right still.

Yet, his rhetoric of ‘bleeding heart’ liberals stuck and became commonly used on the right, as if it were the most damning criticism. But it remains odd, considering those doing the attacking have claimed to be Christians. So, why has a traditional and ancient Christian symbol expressing the highest Christian value been believed to be a bad thing in the minds of self-identified Christians who claimed to defend the Christian faith? Whatever the reason, the sting of this insult has worn away from overused repetition and many liberals have reclaimed it as an honorable title. Presently, most Americans are not convinced that deeply caring about other humans is a moral failing and character flaw. In general, a lot of anti-leftist rhetoric isn’t as compelling as it once was. It’s similar to how the punch has been lost to calling someone a tree-hugging environmentalist or pot-smoking hippy. Heck, even red-baiting accusations that others are commies, socialists, and fellow travelers doesn’t have much impact these days.

In their smug confidence, the far right overplayed its hand. Their endless repetition of rhetoric, including the CIA’s Mighty Wurlitzer, has had the opposite effect than intended by normalizing leftist language and so making leftist ideology attractive. But it goes deeper than that, in how public opinion itself has changed, no matter how confused Americans remain about what words and labels mean. Americans have embraced left-liberal values. For certain, it is unimaginable for anyone today to use a symbol of Christian unconditional love, compassion, and charity as a dismissive caricature of lynching opponents. Not only did lynching become criminalized but so far outside of social norms and moral standards as to not even be defended by the staunchest of conservatives and libertarians. The American majority has gone further left still in now agreeing with and supporting the anti-racist and pro-egalitarian message of Black Lives Matter. Liberals have become the strongest and most authentic advocates of Jesus’ visionary message of love as a common bond of a universal humanity. And, in the context of this ancient religious radicalism turned modern secular value, we are all bleeding heart liberals now.

* * *

Slinging Mud
by Rosemarie Ostler

The first uses of bleeding heart to mean “someone tenderhearted toward the downtrodden” began appearing in the 1930s. Before that time the pphrase described someone who was suffering emotionally, such as a bereaved person. In its new meaning, it describes people whose hearts bleed sympathetically for others, but with the implication that they are suckers or lack common sense.

The political meaning of bleeding heart may have been coined by conservative columnist Westbrook Pegler. It first appeared in print in a January 8, 1938, column in which Pegler criticized a “time-kiling debate” on antylynching laws, noting that only around fourteen people a year were lynched. In Pegler’s view, the country’s other problems were more pressing. He writes, “I question the humanitarianism of any professional or semi-pro bleeding heart who clamors that not a single person must be allowed to hunger, but would stall the entire legislative program . . . to save 14 lives a year.”

Bleeding hearts were often connected with the New Deal in the 1930s, as in another Pegler phrase, “bleeding-heart journalists of the New Deal.” The negative expression of bleeding heart liberal didn’t come into vogue until the 1960s. Liberal on its own didn’t become a pejorative term until around the 1980s.

American Leftist Supermajority

“Remember all those supermajority poll results?  Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny.  The polls would be shifting a lot further.  Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular.  One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of.”

Michael D. D. White, Everybody’s Realizing It Now, National Notice

The past few weeks we’ve been researching how a false public perception of a conservative majority was created in hiding the reality of a leftist majority. For a long time, we’ve known the polling data on public opinion, from Fox News to PRRI. It was perplexing that not only a majority but a supermajority could exist without most Americans knowing and apparently with most political elites not knowing it. A little over a decade ago when we discovered that a leftist majority existed, we were maybe too cynical at that point to be surprised, but it did catch us off guard. Decades of MSM viewing never indicated even slightly how far left most Americans were.

It was yet another example of how we had been lied to or misled our entire lives. Our minds kept coming back to this over the years, as we looked at more and more data. There was one point that drove this home from some years back. Pew’s Beyond Red vs. Blue showed that 9%, almost 1 in 10, of Solid Liberals (strongly liberal on every issue) identified as ‘conservative’, but the opposite pattern was barely seen on the other side, maybe like 1-2%. This is the result of decades of the Wirthlin effect where symbolic ideology has replaced pragmatic ideology, in forming highly manipulated social identities.

The strangeness of this phenomenon kept nagging at us. We had picked up a few explanations like the Wirthlin effect, but it still felt dissatisfying. How can a leftist majority be made to not know the fact of its own existence for over at least 40 years? That is pretty much the entire adult life for anyone who is GenX or younger, which is most of the population. The Wirthlin effect alone couldn’t accomplish this if there wasn’t a complicit corporate media apparatus that was acting as the propaganda arm of the ruling elite. Most Americans presently get at least 90% of their infotainment from a few big biz media oligopolies.

This was a central point made by Michael D. D. White in his piece Everybody’s Realizing It Now. In describing what most Americans want, he points out how politicians ignore public demand and dismiss the consent of the governed. “The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have,” he writes, “if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press.  We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.” Then he goes on to say that,

“For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite.  See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.”

So, that is what has been on our minds. We’ve wanted to know how this happened and how Americans so often seemed to not notice it was happening or were too apathetic to protest. But it’s hard to be too harshly critical of the public that has been fed a constant diet of lies and propaganda. Another clue was the religious Paul Weyrich admitting they weren’t a majority at the launching of the 1980 Moral Majority organization, in concert with the presidential election of Ronald Reagan, and then also admitting they wouldn’t win elections without voter suppression. That demonstrated how fully aware they were when they decided to implement perception hacking on the American public.

In our research, we used that as a starting point. Richard Wirthlin seemed mostly a dead end, as he was simply a standard politico in the Reagan administration, but looking into Weyrich was much more fruitful. As we dug into it, the connections that came up were fascinating. It suddenly became clear how much of a major operation this was, as it required at least hundreds of millions of dollars a year to build the present shadow network, which meant a minimal of many billions has been invested into this long-term propaganda campaign.

The 1980s was the same period when media deregulation began. Weyrich and others also started to invest immensely in media companies and pushing them strongly on both the old media and new media platforms. To put it in perspective, our now elderly conservative parents were still in their 30s when the Moral Majority organization was founded. By the late 1980s, conservative media was already becoming a national political and cultural force. That was when our family moved to the South Carolina where our parents remained for 20 years, up through the entire Bush jr. administration.

During that time, Fox News was started and right-wing talk radio took hold, along with the rise of reactionary paranoia with the likes of Alex Jones and Art Bell (even if the latter was personally more liberalish/libertarian). You could imagine what this was like in the Deep South. Our parents became trapped in a far right media and cultural bubble. So, as the country continued to go left, our parents went right. But they had no context to realize how far right they had gone because, by Deep South standards within their upper middle class social circle, they were moderates. One of our father’s friends even jokingly accused him of being a “secret liberal”.

It’s true that our parents had gone through a liberal phase when we were younger. One of our mother’s best friends in the late 1970s to early 1980s was a pot-smoking hippy. Our father has told us that, in their early marriage, our mother was pro-choice; but now she calls abortion “baby-killing”. Along with our brothers, we became liberals, largely because our parents raised us in liberal New Agey churches, many years having been spent in a liberal college town. But now our parents in their mid-70s have forgotten how liberal they used to be, although always Republican. When Reagan was president, the GOP still had a left wing of the party, including a significant number of blacks (with the living memory at the time of Democrats having previously been the party of Southern white racists).

Since retirement, our parents moved back to this same Iowa liberal college town where we also now live and where our family previously lived back in the mid-to-late 1980s. It’s been a culture shock for them. What goes for a moderate conservative in the Midwest would be perceived as a liberal in the South. And what is considered conservative in a Midwestern liberal college town is pretty far left. Our parents suddenly find themselves on the far right, although that might have already been true, but the stark contrast of the local population has made it undeniably true, uncomfortably and inconveniently true.

What our parents have struggled to come to terms with is that it isn’t merely a small demographic of liberal elites. The majority view in this liberal college town in moderate Iowa are about the same as the majority views across most of the country. Yet they’d been so trapped within an ideological reality tunnel that, until recently, they didn’t have to acknowledge the existence of the majority of other Americans. We suspect this has been true of many other conservatives as well, particularly those who are older and otherwise isolated by geography, lifestyle, retirement, and echo chambers.

Our mother has maybe more easily accepted her newly perceived minority status. She grew up working class and so always knew she was not part of the upper class that determines social norms and public perception. And as a public school teacher, she probably has been exposed to more liberals over her career. But my father has always been in positions of authority and specifically conservative-minded authority (army officer, factory manager, & business management professor). In fact, he grew up as the son of a small town minister and so had authority status thrust upon him from a young age, from having been expected to give public prayers to adult groups to havng been expected to become class president.

So, even when told the polling data, our father dismisses it because it simply doesn’t fit his sense of the personal reality he knows within upper middle class authority where he is used to the majority of others being deferent to him and his opinion, as opposed to speaking honestly to him. As most Americans are more leftist, they probably realize they should hide their leftist views from authority figures, such as their bosses, who are disproportionately on the political right. Plus, as research shows, people on the higher end of the economic scale lose or never learn the full capacity for carefully listening to others and accurrately reading the emotions, motivations, and intentions of others. Indeed, our mother is more psychologically and socially aware than our father.

Because of the sense of conflict and feeling out of place, our parents are thinking of leaving their church here because it is too social justicey for them, not that it is to the left of the American public. To find a church that does fit their right-wing politics, such as my father’s newfound faith in the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, they’ll probably have to join a Baptist or other fundamentalist church. But that doesn’t fit our father’s identity as he has always thought of himself as ‘mainstream’, as definitive of the ‘majority’ and the ‘normal’. The reality, though, is his views maybe never were majority, not even decades ago. It’s just that he never had to face this reality until recently since leaving his Deep South social world.

In general, maybe even in the Deep South, it’s getting harder to ignore how far left the country has gone. It’s not merely that there have been Black Lives Matter protests everywhere but the fact that now a supermajority agrees with the message of BLM leaders, the view that racism is systemic and the police should be reformed. Yet, to our father, BLM leaders are all Marxists (probably cultural Marxists, the worst kind) and, his having been bottlefed on Cold War propaganda, that means they are pure evil trying to destroy everything that is good about America. That the supermajority sides with BLM is simply incomprehensible to him. It irritaes our mother as well, if with more fatalistic resignation.

Because of older conservatives like our father, there is a powerful backlash going on at the moment, but it’s temporary, During the rise of the Tea Party in the Obama administration, we thought of it as an injured and cornered dog acting all the more vicious because it knows it’s weak and dying, and indeed such a desperate creature can be dangerous (as the MAGA insurrection demonstrated). Our parents, assuming they live long enough, might eventually come to accept this state of affairs and hopefully become less reactionary from the Fox News effect. This morning, our mother had on CSPAN’s Washington Journal. The guest was Cenk Uygur and, interestingly, he was making the exact point of how most of ‘radical’ AOC’s positions are the same as most views held by the American public. She wasn’t necessarily paying attention to what was being said, but it was at least further exposure that might slowly seep down into her psyche.

This is how change happens. As last wave GenXers, we’re barely old enough to remember the old Moral Majority rhetoric and the dwindling of Cold War propaganda. Many Americans our age still carry that ideological indoctrination. But the oldest Millennials, a few years younger than us, have far less sense of any of that. The younger generations know they are a leftist majority. The now old New Right propaganda operation was able to gin up reactionaries during this era of New Media in order to win elections (because of the Electoral College makes progressive and democratic supermajorities impotent), but they ultimately couldn’t tightly control the messaging like they did in the past prior to the internet and social media.

This next decade will be key. The Silent generation has almost entirely been eliminated from power. And the quickly aging Boomers have been losing influence, retiring, and dying. Biden will surely be the last of those older generations to be president. For the first time in our lifetime and maybe in all of American history, there will finally be an ideologically self-aware leftist supermajority that knows it is a leftist supermajority. Already, leftist labels and rhetoric have become normalized and attractive to the younger generations. Yet even then the leftist supermajority might in a way remain unaware or unidentified as such because, as supermajority public opinion becomes a social fact and social norm, the Overton window will move left and the whole political spectrum will realign.

What was called left in the past could simply be the new perceived center, by which all else is defned and compared. Then again, maybe it always was the center. During the Populist and Progressive eras, prior to McCarthyism, Hollywood blacklisting, Cold War propaganda and FBI COINTELPRO, Americans used to be even more economically leftist in support of high taxation on the rich and massive social programs, even significant support of socialism and communism, particularly among the working class and even in the Deep South. We have yet to return to the large and powerful left-wing movement that once existed. But a publicly acknowledged leftist supermajority will begin to move us back in that direction.

* * *

The real point of this post was the below National Notice piece from 2019 by Michael D. D. White. The author is one of the many people who are bringing together the data to show the reality of the majority. Indeed, we picked up from him that we shouldn’t only be speaking of this actual majority for, in fact, it’s a large supermajority — on average, about two-thirds of Americans and sometimes much higher with certain issues. But what we really liked about White’s analysis is his explanation of how this came about, specifically the important role of media.

Everybody’s Realizing It Now: The Political Establishment Is Not Willing To Give The Public The Things The Vast Majority Of Americans Want And That We Could Easily Have
by Michael D. D. White, National Notice

The disappointing experience we had with New York City elected officials respecting libraries may be why when Citizens Defending Libraries participated in producing a forum about Voter Disenfranchisement (how voting is being suppressed, neutralized and the will of the electorate thwarted) it zeroed in and posted the following as grist for discussion:  

The re-enfranchisement of all U.S. citizens voting should also be fought on multiple other fronts. Evidence that electeds don’t follow the popular will is ample, with the majority of Americans wanting but not getting:
        • medicare for all; •  protection of women’s reproductive rights; •  stricter gun control laws; • stricter regulations on and breaking up of the big banks; • more environmental regulation; • equal pay for women; • easier, less restrictive immigration; • less surveillance of American citizens; • less military spending and a pull back from the U.S.’s endless and ceaseless military interventions (wars); • net neutrality; • continued support for traditional public schools, and free college; • more restrictions on money in politics. 

Full disclosure: I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries and I worked to set up that forum.

More recently, Columbia law Professor Tim Wu (author of The Master Switch,” “The Attention  Merchants,” and The Curse of Bigness) wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

See- Opinion: The Oppression of the Supermajority- The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the thwarting of a largely unified public.  By Tim Wu, March 5, 2019

Professor Wu offered his analysis of why that is.  While he acknowledged that we are supposed to have checks and balances to get thoughtful government rather than mob rule, he noted:                       

    . . . In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification. Instead, legislative stagnation is cynically defended by those who benefit from it with an unconvincing invocation of the rigors of our system of checks and balances.

Tim Wu with his list is following also in the footsteps of film maker and political critic Michael Moore (also a library defender) who included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

To quote what is included about this 38 minutes into the film:

There seems to be a misunderstanding about who the real America is. Let me share with you a fact that has never been stated in the press or reported on the nightly news, or even spoken amongst ourselves. The United States of America is a leftist country.
That’s right.  We are one rocking, shit-kicking, gay-loving, gun-rejecting, race-mixing, pot-smoking, tree-hugging, hip-hopping, anywhere breast-feeding, quince-cooking, left-leaning liberal nation. Here are the facts.

    The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice.
    [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]
    They want equal pay for women,
    [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]
    stronger environmental laws,
    [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
    legalized marijuana,
    [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
    a raise in the minimum wage,
    [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
    Medicare for all,
    [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
    tuition-free college,
    [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
    free child care,
    [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
    support for labor unions,
    [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
    a cut in the military budget,
    [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
     break up the big banks.
    [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]
    Most Americans don’t even own a gun.
    [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]
    And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S.
    [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]
    And on and on and on.   

  . . . . Those crazy motherfuckers have won. . .  If America is us and we’re the majority, why is it that we do not hold a single seat of power? Not the White House, not the Senate, not the House, not the Supreme Court. To go one better that Moore in terms of showing how power and money supersedes what people want, most gun owners and even a majority of the members of the National Rifle Association (plus those who live in households with guns) want more sensible and restrictive gun laws than we have, laws which those leading the NRA seek to fend off.

Moore makes the point in his film that the Democrats are missing the boat by not representing the people.  Even more harshly critical of the Democrats as a corporately captured party masquerading as “opposition” is comedian and media watchdog Jimmy Dore who points out that those in charge of the Democratic party like Nancy Pelosi are actually making it their job to tell the public along with all registered Democrats that they can’t have what the majority of Americans want, an effort to marginalize the most important issues. . .  And they tell those wanting to work through the Democratic party that they shouldn’t even be working for those things!

Dore recently provided his own list of things that “people want and that we know we can have. . What everybody else gets to have in other countries” (and we are, he comments, the “richest country in the world?”)

    •    70% of Americans are for medicare for all
    •    63% are for a $15 minimum wage
    •    66% are for tuition free college
    •    81% support a Green New Deal
    •    59% (almost 6 out of ten Americans support a 70% top marginal tax rate.
    •    72% of American support expanding social security
    •    62% of American want to legalize marijuana
    •    65% want to reform our incarceration system
    •    63% want same sex marriage freedom
    •    69% seven out of ten, want to keep Roe vs. Wade
    •    75% think that immigration is good.
    •    83% want net neutrality
    •    61% want to stop climate change
    •    77% want campaign finance reform (which is not what the Democrats want, just repeal Citizens United)
    •    Almost six out of ten American want to break up the big banks
    •    64% want a guaranteed jobs program
    •    76% Want to tax the rich
    •    67% want to tax big corporations more
    •    Eight, almost nine out of ten Americans want to use the military only as a last resort

Listen to Jimmy Dore Show, April 18, 2019 (“Warmongers Exposed” starting at 27 minutes in.) You can also catch the Jimmy Dore Radio Show on WBAI radio.

Dore points out that the only place these things like Medicare For All are “not mainstream” is inside the beltway and “cable news green rooms.”  This goes to show, says Dore, that we live in an oligarchy where democracy has already been stolen from the public– hacked by Wall Street, Big Oil and Big Pharma.  And we blame the Russians? asks Dore.

It’s not just democracy that’s being stolen from us: Our ability to communicate sensibly with each other has been sabotaged.  Wanting to make his points in his film Michael Moore proclaims that we are a “leftist country. .  . a  left-leaning liberal nation.”  But does that language of Moore’s ceding “the center” to others who are further right truly make sense?  Consider this tweet from Ralph Nader:

They call Bernie Sanders, Senator from conservative Vermont, a leftist. All his major proposals to improve our economy’s fairness and productivity have healthy majority support. Doesn’t that make him a centrist? -R

[…] That gets us to our second major topic for consideration here: The political establishment only gets away with denying the public these things that the public could have if it is aided and abetted by a complicit press.  We have a press owned by corporate conglomerates that exaggerate the costs and underestimate the benefits of such public goods.

For example, when a Koch funded study reached a conclusion (a conclusion the Koch’s certainly didn’t want the study group they funded to reach) that Medicare For All would save the American public $2.1 trillion (in actuality, probably more would be saved), the corporate press went into overdrive to misrepresent and ignore the math and report something quite the opposite.  See the reporting of this press misbehavior by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting which was included in Counterspin, a program they broadcast on WBAI: Reporting on Medicare for All Makes Media Forget How Math Works, Justin Anderson, July 31, 2018.

Similarly, in New York City, we got reporting telling us that New Yorkers had to suffer the huge loss of selling public libraries for less than they were worth because otherwise New Yorkers couldn’t be expected to be able to afford libraries at all.  How very little we were spending on libraries in the overall scheme of things, especially given their benefit, went more or less unreported.  The New York Times ran a front page article about how great it was to be selling off libraries and schools ignoring information Citizens Defending Libraries gave them to the contrary.

Think back for a moment– Remember all those supermajority poll results?  Think where the polls on all these things would be if the press did its job, instead of aligning with the corporations and the political establishment to stonewall and deny.  The polls would be shifting a lot further.  Those things the public wants and is told it can’t have would be even more popular.  One area where polls would shift is where the public would now be positioned on the subject of Democratic Socialism which the public, especially young people are increasingly in favor of.  See: Libraries As A Threat To The “Perspective” That Virtually Everything Should Be Dictated And Run By The Forces of Market Capitalism, August 31, 2018.

There’s still another reason to keep those all supermajority poll results in mind (including where the polls could shift to with a little help from less biased news coverage): When you find people selling you the idea that ours is an extremely divided nation (that’s a common meme for the press now harps on these days), you can scoff and reject the notion that such divisions explain almost everything as a lot of tripe.  As a nation we have much more in common than we are being told.  That’s true no matter how much our differences are being stoked, and it’s true no matter how much the extreme right and its hateful passions, in particular, are being stoked these days. (Listening to “On Contact” on WBAI, you may have just heard Matt Taibbi explain to host Chris Hedges how American journalism is now engaged in purposefully stoking hate between citizens.)

The buttressing by the press of the political establishment’s unwillingness to represent the public on issue after issue of major importance leaves these huge supermajorities of our populace unspoken for and lacking information vital to the conduct of our democracy.  Plus, let’s once again reiterate: The supermajorities these polls record would certainly swell mightily if there was a decent flow of information out to these audiences.

[…] ADDENDUM (added 6/11/2019): One more list!  After this article was written and posted, Chris Hedges interviewed Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins on his “On Contact” radio show (on WBAI and earlier episodes of the show were mentioned in the article as first written). In the course of that interview Hedges presented another list of things that Americans want, could have, but are not being allowed to have by those dominating politics and government in the United States.

Hedges observes that his sampling from his list below is an example of how the positions that are taken by the Green Party are, in fact, in almost all cases, majoritarian positions.

Here is that list, that begins at 10 minutes into the interview:

•    82% of the Americans think wealthy people have too much power and influence.
•    69% think large businesses have too much power and influence in Washington.
•    78% of likely voters support stronger rules and enforcement and regulation of the financial industry.       
•    48% think economic inequality is very big while another 34% think economic inequality is moderately big.  (48%+34%= 82%)
•    59% of registered voters and 51% of registered Republicans favor raising the minimum that low wage worker can make and still be eligible for earned income tax credit from $14,820 to $18,000.
•    96% of American, including 96% of Republicans believe that money in politics is responsible for the dysfunction of the American system.
•    76% believe wealthy American should pay higher taxes.
•    59% favor raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 an hour.
•    61%, including 42% of Republicans approve of labor unions.
•    60% of Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care.
•    60% of registered voters favor expanding medicare to provide health insurance to every single citizen.
•    59% favor free early childhood education.
•    76% are concerned about climate disruption.
•    84% support requiring background checks for all gun owners.
•    58% of American believe that abortions should be legal.

“And yet,” notes Hedges, “from both of the parties (except maybe abortion*), none of these majoritarian issues are being addressed.

And that’s the problem of American politics,” says Hawkins, “political preferences don’t translate into public policy, because the political system responds to the donors, not the voters.”

* * *

*Note: The majority Americans are pro-choice in most or all cases, although many also support moderate restrictions on abortion in certain cases, such as late-term pregnancies barring threat to the mother’s life. The point remains that a supermajority is in favor of protecting the Roe v. Wade decision, as opposed to the minority that wants to overturn the decision and remove the federal protection of pro-choice access to abortions. This support has grown stronger over the decades.

In another blogging piece in the works, it is noted that the present culture wars are very much an invented phenomenon. The new religious right didn’t form in response to abortion but, as religious right leader Paul Weyrich admitted, to a Supreme Court Case banning racial segregation in Bible Colleges. In fact, most earlier Americans, including most conservative evangelicals, supported women’s pro-choce rights in ensuring safe abortions were available to all women. In the early-to-mid 1900s, the divide was not between liberal secularists and conservative fundamentalists but between two paired groups. Catholics (or rather the Vatican) and First Wave feminists were anti-choice while Protestants and Second Wave feminists were pro-choice.

When the Roe v. Wade decision was made, many well known religious right figures came out in support of it. So did many Republican leaders, including Dwight Eisenhower who made the liberal argument that it wasn’t helpful to ban abortions because, then, women would feel forced to get illegal and unsafe abortions. Eisenhower’s wife, by the way, helped found Planned Parenthood in Texas. It was only years later, when the anti-segregationist case happened, that the religious right leaders decided to start using abortion as a symbolic dog whistle to oppose social liberalism because they knew they couldn’t gain support by organizing around racism.

During the first half of the 20th century, Christianity had become quite liberal, as had the population in general. This is seen in the data reported by John Sides, as taken from Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson: “On average, liberal responses were more common than conservative responses. This has been true in nearly every year since 1956, even as the relative liberalism of the public has trended up and down.  For decades now there has been a consistent discrepancy between what Ellis and Stimson call symbolic ideology (how we label ourselves) and operational ideology (what we really think about the size of government)” (Why most conservatives are secretly liberals).

For some specific numbers, consider that, “almost 30 percent of Americans are “consistent liberals” — people who call themselves liberals and have liberal politics.  Only 15 percent are “consistent conservatives” — people who call themselves conservative and have conservative politics.  Nearly 30 percent are people who identify as conservative but actually express liberal views.  The United States appears to be a center-right nation in name only.” So, though only a third of Americans are politically liberal and liberal-identifying, the supermajority of Americans hold liberal views, including about abortion. Think about the fact that there is only 15% of hardcore conservatives.

Capitalist Realism, Capitalist Religion

”One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.”

Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as religion

“Avarice — once one of the seven deadly sins — morphed into the ‘self-interest’ or ‘initiative’ indispensable to wealth and innovation, while the inscrutable ways of Providence yielded to the laws of supply and demand.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“Even a quick glance at the self-improvement, management, spirituality, and Christian guidance genres reveals their thematic similarities: exhortations to “discover your inner strength,” “call the good into your life,” and “live without limits.” How could such disparate categories become nearly identical in their message?”

Regina Munch, Capitalism as Religion: How Money Became God

We are part of a family where, when gathered, there is much discussion and analysis of social responsibility and personal accountability in terms of finances, parenting, education, etc. Our parents are conservative, but our brothers are liberal. The views shared are not entirely ideological in a partisan sense and there is often much agreement about premises, as most Americans share an unquestioned faith in the dogma of hyper-individualism, captialist realism, and natural consequences — all of the accoutrements of WEIRD bias at the extremes of Jaynesian egoic-consciousness. It’s an all-encompassing worldview for those within it. Alternatives are not entertained, much less acknowledged. Such moral-tinged talk always implies that the world is a certain way, that it should not and cannot be otherwise, or else simply can’t be imagined to the contrary. There is no suggestion, of course, that anything is wrong or lacking within the system itself.

The lives of those individuals who fail according to the enforced social norms and rules are offered up as exemplary morality tales of what not to do, along with just-so narratizing of their failure and inferiority, although the condescension is couched within superficial non-judgment and neutral observation. After all, those others have no one to blame other than themselves, as isolated and self-contained moral agents. Or else, assuming they were simply born that way because of some combination of genetic predilection and inborn personality, familial patterns and inherited culture, there is nothing the rest of us can do about it, other than to express our sense of pity in noting how they acted wrongly or inadequately within the established system of social reality as given through the inevitable and unalterable link from cause to effect. To attempt to intervene would likely make things worse, as it would circumvent capitalism as a pedagoical system, one variety of the conservative morality-punishment link as social control. Each individual must learn or else suffer, as God or Nature intended. Still, much concern and worrying is offered.

Yet, for whatever reason, this ideological worldview as totalizing mazeway and habitus makes absolutely no sense to some of us. The indoctrination never quite took full hold in our psyche — maybe a personal failing of ours, as we are the least outwardly and normatively ‘successful’ in the family. In listening in on the talk of other family members, we can feel like an alien anthropological observer of strange cultural customs and religious practices. We can’t help but imagine that future historians will portray our present society in the way we look back on slavery and feudalism, humoral temperaments and miasmic air, witchburnings and bloodletting, an economically and scientifically backward period of societal development, like the pimples of an awkward and gangly teenager who is no longer a child but not quite an adult, if pimples involved mass oppression and suffering. But it goes beyond the outward social order itself. The underlying belief system can seem the strangest of all. The power it holds in socially constructing a reality tunnel is amazing, to say the least.

We’ve previously noted how humans will go to great effort, even self-sacrifice, to enforce social norms. A social order as an ideological lifeworld doesn’t happen on accident. It doesn’t develop organically. It has to be created and enforced, and then continuously re-created and re-enforced again and again across time. It’s an endless project that requires immense investment of time, effort, and money (trillions upon trillions of dollars are spent every year to fund the system of social control to punish the guilty and reward the worthy). For at least a decade, we’ve had the tentative theory that bullshit jobs are simply busywork to maintain the system or rather they are ritual activity like monks going through their daily routine of prayers, chanting, and monastical maintenance. Most work likely doesn’t serve any practical value other than upholding and enacting the very system that is dependent on the worker identity, where non-workers are non-entities or of questionable status to be used, punished, controlled, or dismissed as needed and by whatever means necessary. Yet when, pandemic panic shut down large swaths of the economy, it starkly demonstrated what was and was not essential work while the economy lumbered on just fine. The fears proved false. The forecast of doom never came.

As always, this brings us to thoughts on the ruling elite that are themselves ruled by their own elitism, taken in by their own culture of propaganda, the first victims of viral mind control to be spread like a plague from pussy rags thrown into the town well. The indoctrination is trickledown, if not the wealth and resources. The point is the oligarchs and plutocrats are in many ways sincerely paternalistic, elitist and supremacist in believing their own fevered rantings, as dementedly hypocritical as it can seem from an outside perspective. Obviously, this society is not the best of all possible worlds and, in some ways, the very point is to suppress progress, where the destabilizing consequences of creative destruction mostly apply to the victmized permanent underclass. Yet the costs of maintaining the social order, although disproportionately offloaded onto the dirty masses, also harms the monied classes. But one suspects that most social dominators take it as a good deal for there could be no value in a superior lifestyle of privilege, prestige, and power if benefits could not be denied to others — the scarcity principle of value. It’s simply the costs of doing business and business, as such, is doing well within the American Empire. That more value might be destroyed (endless war, imperial bureaucracy, suppression of competition, wanton destruction of human potential, etc) than created is not a concern, as long as the profits and benefits get concentrated among the deserving.

Capitalism is simply a modern religion, far from being an original insight. And the assumption of inborn selfishness within homo economicus is a variant on the belief in an Original Sin that marks all of humanity as a shared curse that justifes the system of punishment and sufferng that, accordng to doctrine, cleanses the soul and strengthens character. Economics is theology and economists the clergy. The cult of the market is operated according to various rites and rituals, theological doctrine and clerical law upheld by the mysterious authorities of Wall Street, US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US Department of the Treasury (USDT), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Reserve System (“Fed”), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (IBRD & IDA), World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of Eight (G8), etc. The consumer-citizen seeks their salvation and redemption through workplace observence within corporate-churches and economic transactions of buying product-indulgences at market-shrines.

One could analyze it endlessly, as many others have already done. But what motivated our thoughts here was the basic observation of how it operates in such a casual and thoughtless manner. The theology of capitalist realism rolls off the tongue as if a comforting prayer invoking Divine Law. It’s such a simple and compelling faith that has such power because there is a vast institutional hegemony, if mostly hidden, enforcing Natural Law-and-Order. Even the economic sinners, the lost souls, and the excommunicated who fall under the punisment of debt, poverty, and homelessness rarely question the moral justification of their fate nor the system that sentenced judgment upon them, in the hope they might regain Divine Favor of material fortune, to be welcomed back by the Invisible Hand into the congregation of the saved. We so easily internalize this ideological worldview and identify with it. The even worse fate, so it seems, would be to lose faith entirely and find oneself in the ideological desert with no shared moral order to offer certainty, no shared moral imagination to offer comfort.

“Critics of the disenchantment narrative have long noticed that if you look closely at western modernity, this ostensibly secular and rational regime, you find it pretty much teeming with magical thinking, supernatural forces, and promises of grace. Maybe the human yearning for enchantment never went away; it just got redirected. God is there, just pointing down other paths. As scholars like Max Weber have noted, capitalism is a really a religion, complete with its own rites, deities, and rituals. Money is the Great Spirit, the latest gadgets are its sacred relics, and economists, business journalists, financiers, technocrats, and managers make up the clergy. The central doctrine holds that money will flow to perform miracles in our lives if we heed the dictates of the market gods.”

Lynn Parramore, The Gospel of Capitalism is the Biggest Turkey of All

“…capitalism is a form of enchantment—perhaps better, a misenchantment, a parody or perversion of our longing for a sacramental way of being in the world. Its animating spirit is money. Its theology, philosophy, and cosmology have been otherwise known as “economics.” Its sacramentals consist of fetishized commodities and technologies—the material culture of production and consumption. Its moral and liturgical codes are contained in management theory and business journalism. Its clerisy is a corporate intelligentsia of economists, executives, managers, and business writers, a stratum akin to Aztec priests, medieval scholastics, and Chinese mandarins. Its iconography consists of advertising, public relations, marketing, and product design. Its beatific vision of eschatological destiny is the global imperium of capital, a heavenly city of business with incessantly expanding production, trade, and consumption. And its gospel has been that of “Mammonism,” the attribution of ontological power to money and of existential sublimity to its possessors.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“While the economist community that is comprised of economists sanctioned by the religion acts as the clergy of the religion, modern media which took the place of individual church buildings as a medium of communication acts as their medium to preach the religion to the society. This setup is amended by the education institutions and scientific institutions which act as the appendages to the Church, where children are educated/indoctrinated to the religion and its tenets from an early age by instilling them with ideas of competition, consumerism, materialism based success and in general a complete worldview that is created based on the religion’s tenets. The higher education and scientific institutions continue the education/indoctrination, creating the subsequent generations of clergy to preach the religion and run the institutions.”

Ozgur Zeren, Capitalism is Religion