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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War

“A house divided against itself cannot stand”*…

It’s painfully obvious that America is a divided nation. The reasons are many, and have deep roots. Alan Jacobs contemplates three of the most fundamental…

The American Civil War was not that long ago. The last surviving Civil War veteran died two years before my birth. A conflict of that size and scope and horror leaves marks — marks on the land and marks on the national psyche — not readily erased.

I have come to believe that certain habits of mind arising directly from the Civil War still dominate the American consciousness today. I say not specific beliefs but rather intellectual dispositions; and those dispositions account for the form that many of our conflicts take today. Three such habits are especially important.

1. Among Southerners – and I am one – the primary habit is a reliance on consoling lies. In the aftermath of the Civil War Southerners told themselves that the Old South was a culture of nobility and dignity; that slaves were largely content with their lot and better off enslaved than free; that the war was not fought for slavery but in the cause of state’s rights; that Robert E. Lee was a noble and gentle man who disliked slavery; and so on. Such statements were repeated for generations by people who knew that they were evasive at best – the state’s right that the Confederacy was created to defend was the right to own human beings as chattel – and often simply false, and if the people making those statements didn’t consciously understand the falsehood, they kept such knowledge at bay through the ceaseless repetition of their mantras. (Ty Seidule’s book Robert E. Lee and Me is an illuminating account, from the inside, of how such deceptions and self-deceptions work.) And now we see precisely the same practice among the most vociferous supporters of Donald Trump: a determined repetition of assertions – especially that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen, but also concerning COVID–19 and many other matters – that wouldn’t stand up even to casual scrutiny, and therefore don’t receive that scrutiny. It’s easy to fall into a new set of lies when you have a history of embracing a previous set of lies. 

2. Among Northerners, the corresponding habit is a confidence in one’s own moral superiority. Because the North was right and the South wrong about the institution of slavery, it was easy for the North then to dismiss any evidence of its own complicity in racism. Our cause is righteous – that is all we know on earth, and all we need know. (But if our cause is righteous, doesn’t that suggest that we are too?) And then, later, whenever there were political conflicts in which the majority of Northerners were on one side and the majority of Southerners on the other – about taxation, or religious liberty, or anything – the temptation was irresistible to explain the disagreement always by the same cause: the moral rectitude of the one side, the moral corruption of the other. The result (visible on almost every page of the New York Times, for instance) is a pervasive smugness that enrages many observers while remaining completely invisible to those who have fallen into it. 

3. And among Black Americans, the relevant disposition is a settled suspicion of any declarations of achieved freedom. Emancipation, it turns out, is not achieved by proclamation; nor is it achieved by the purely legal elimination of slavery. Abolition did not end discrimination or violence; indeed, it ushered in a new era of danger for many (the era of lynching) and a new legal system (Jim Crow) that scarcely altered the economic conditions of the recently enslaved. After this happens two or three times you learn to be skeptical, and you teach your children to be skeptical. Brown v. Board of Education produces equal educational opportunity for blacks and whites? We have our doubts. The Civil Rights Act outlaws racial discrimination? We’ll see about that. I wonder how many times Black Americans have heard that racism is over. They don’t, as far as I can tell anyway, believe that things haven’t gotten better; but they believe that improvement has been slow and uneven, and that many injustices that Americans think have died are in fact alive and often enough thriving.   

I think these three persistent habits of mind explain many of the conflicts that beset Americans today. And if I were to rank them in order of justifiability, I would say: the first is tragically unjustifiable — and the chief reason why, to my lasting grief, we Southerners have so often allowed our vices to displace our virtues —; the second is understandable but dangerously misleading; and the third … well, the third is pretty damn hard to disagree with.  

As the man [William Faulkner] said: The past is not dead; it is not even past. 

From Jabob’s always-illuminating blog, Snakes and Ladders, “habits of the American mind.” You can follow him at @ayjay.

[Image above: source]

* Abraham Lincoln (in his speech to the Illinois Republican State Convention, Springfield, Illinois June 16, 1858)

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As we dwell on division, we might recall that it was on this date in 1787 that an organic act of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States, the Northwest Ordinance. It created the Northwest Territory, the new nation’s first organized incorporated territory, from lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains, between British North America and the Great Lakes to the north and the Ohio River to the south. The upper Mississippi River formed the territory’s western boundary; Pennsylvania was the eastern boundary.

Considered one of the most important legislative acts of the Confederation Congress, it established the precedent by which the federal government would be sovereign and expand westward with the admission of new states, rather than with the expansion of existing states and their established sovereignty under the Articles of Confederation. It also protected civil liberties and outlawed slavery in the new territories and set legislative precedent with regard to American public domain lands.

The prohibition of slavery in the territory had the practical effect of establishing the Ohio River as the geographic divide between slave states and free states from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, an extension of the Mason–Dixon line, helping set the stage for later federal political conflicts over slavery during the 19th century until the Civil War.

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“Trees and people used to be good friends”*…

Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Dress, defined as The Dress of 2020, in Arcadia

What’s old is new again… yet again…

If there’s a style that defines 2020, it has to be “cottagecore.” In March 2020, the New York Times defined it as a “budding aesthetic movement… where tropes of rural self-sufficiency converge with dainty décor to create an exceptionally twee distillation of pastoral existence.” In August, consumer-culture publication The Goods by Vox heralded cottagecore as “the aesthetic where quarantine is romantic instead of terrifying.”

Baking, one of the activities the quarantined population favored at the height of the pandemic, is a staple of cottagecore, whose Instagram hashtag features detailed depictions of home-baked goods. Moreover, the designer Lirika Matoshi’s Strawberry Dress, defined as The Dress of 2020, fully fits into the cottagecore aesthetic. A movement rooted in self-soothing through exposure to nature and land, it proved to be the antidote to the stress of the 2020 pandemic for many.

Despite its invocations of rural and pastoral landscapes, the cottagecore aesthetic is, ultimately, aspirational. While publications covering trends do point out that cottagecore is not new—some locate its origins in 2019, others in 2017—in truth, people have sought to create an escapist and aspirational paradise in the woods or fields for 2,300 years.

Ancient Greece had an enduring fascination with the region of Arcadia, located in the Peloponnesus, which many ancient Greeks first dismissed as a primitive place. After all, Arcadia was far from the refined civilization of Athens. Arcadians were portrayed as hunters, gatherers, and sensualists living in an inclement landscape. In the Hellenistic age, however, Arcadia became an idea in the popular consciousness more than a geographical place…

And the pastoral ideal resurfaced regularly therafter. Theocritus, Virgil, Longus, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, even Marie-Antoinette– keeping cozy in a countryside escape, through the ages: “Cottagecore Debuted 2,300 Years Ago,” from Angelica Frey (@angelica_frey) in @JSTOR_Daily.

Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro

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As we pursue the pastoral, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865, after four years of Civil War, approximately 630,000 deaths, and over 1 million casualties, that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to the commander of the Union Army, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the town of Appomattox Court House, Virginia… a one-time pastoral setting.

Union soldiers at the Appomattox courthouse in April 1865 [source]

“Speed is carrying us along, but we have yet to master it”*…

Kitchen #26 (2021) by Samuel Richardson

A call to contemplate the potential negative effects of internet technology along with its promise…

Conversations about technology tend to be dominated by an optimistic faith in technological progress, and headlines about new technologies tend to be peppered with deterministic language assuring readers of all the wonderful things these nascent technologies “will” do once they arrive. There is endless encouragement to think about all of the exciting benefits to be enjoyed if everything goes right, but significantly less attention is usually paid to the ways things might go spectacularly wrong.

In the estimation of philosopher Paul Virilio, the refusal to seriously contemplate the chance of failure can have calamitous effects. As he evocatively put it in 1997’s Open Sky, “Unless we are deliberately forgetting the invention of the shipwreck in the invention of the ship or the rail accident in the advent of the train, we need to examine the hidden face of new technologies, before that face reveals itself in spite of us.” Virilio’s formulation is a reminder that along with new technologies come new types of dangerous technological failures. It may seem obvious today that there had never been a car crash before the car was invented, but what future wrecks are being overlooked today amidst the excited chatter about AI, the metaverse, and all things crypto?

Virilio’s attention to accidents is a provocation to look at technology differently. To foreground the dangers instead of the benefits, and to see ourselves as the potential victims instead of as the smiling beneficiaries. As he put it in Pure War, first published in 1983, “Every technology produces, provokes, programs a specific accident.” Thus, the challenge becomes looking for the “accident” behind the technophilic light show — and what’s more, to find it before the wreckage starts to pile up. 

Undoubtedly, this is not the most enjoyable way to look at technology. It is far more fun to envision yourself enjoying the perfect meal prepared for you by your AI butler than to imagine yourself caught up in a Kafkaesque nightmare after the AI system denies your loan application. Nevertheless, if Virilio was right to observe that “the invention of the highway was the invention of 300 cars colliding in five minutes,” it would be wise to start thinking seriously about the crashes that await us as we accelerate down the information superhighway… 

The work of Paul Virilio urges us to ask: What future disasters inhere in today’s technologies? “Inventing the Shipwreck” from Zachary Loeb (@libshipwreck) in @_reallifemag. Eminently worth reading in full.

For a look at those who don’t just brush aside Virilio’s caution, but actively embrace speed and the chaos that it can cause:

Accelerationism holds that the modern, Western democratic state is so mired in corruption and ineptitude that true patriots should instigate a violent insurrection to hasten its destruction to allow a new, white-dominated order to emerge. Indeed, some of the foremost exponents of accelerationism today were at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They included: the Oath Keepers, whose grab-bag ideology states that “paranoid anti-federalism envision[s] a restoration of ‘self-government’ and ‘natural rights’;” QAnon adherents, who remain convinced that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and that former President Donald Trump was thwarted from saving the world from a Satan-worshipping pedophilia ring run by Democrats, Jews, and other agents of the deep state; and, of course, Trump’s own die-hard “Stop the Steal” minions, who, against all reason and legal proof, seek to restore the former president to office.

The objective of accelerationism is to foment divisiveness and polarization that will induce the collapse of the existing order and spark a second civil war…

Read the full piece: “A Year After January 6, Is Accelerationism the New Terrorist Threat?

* Paul Virilio

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As we practice prudence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1854 that Anthony Fass, a Philadelphia piano maker, was awarded the first U.S. patent (#11062) for an accordion.  (An older patent existed in Europe, issued in Vienna in 1829 to Cyrill Demian.)

“Music helps set a romantic mood. Imagine her surprise when you say, ‘We don’t need a stereo – I have an accordion’.”  – Martin Mull

“A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn’t.”  – Tom Waits

accordion_patent

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“We only have what we give”*…

 

Charity

 

Total charitable giving rose 0.7% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $424.74 billion contributed in 2017. Adjusted for inflation, total giving declined 1.7%…

“After reaching record-breaking levels of giving in 2017, American individuals and organizations continued their generous support of charitable institutions in 2018,” said Rick Dunham, chair of Giving USA Foundation and CEO of Dunham + Company. “However, the environment for giving in 2018 was far more complex than most years, with shifts in tax policy and the volatility of the stock market. This is particularly true for the wide range of households that comprise individual giving and provide over two-thirds of all giving.”

A number of competing factors in the economic and public policy environments may have affected donors’ decisions in 2018, shifting some previous giving patterns. Many economic variables that shape giving, such as personal income, had relatively strong growth, while the stock market decline in late 2018 may have had a dampening effect. The policy environment also likely influenced some donors’ behavior. One important shift in the 2018 giving landscape is the drop in the number of individuals and households who itemize various types of deductions on their tax returns. This shift came in response to the federal tax policy change that doubled the standard deduction. More than 45 million households itemized deductions in 2016. Numerous studies suggest that number may have dropped to approximately 16 to 20 million households in 2018, reducing an incentive for charitable giving…

More detail from Giving USA at “Americans gave $427.71 billion to charity in 2018 amid complex year for charitable giving.”

* Isabel Allende

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As we reach more deeply, we might recall that it was on this date in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the (preliminary) Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that if the rebel states did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in those states would be free.  No Confederate state capitulated, and on the first day of 1863, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Despite it’s expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, of course, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

Still, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war.  After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom.  Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators.  By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

“First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”*…

 

money

 

The instruments of trade and finance are inventions, in the same way that creations of art and discoveries of science are inventions—products of the human imagination. Paper money, backed by the authority of the state, was an astonishing innovation, one that reshaped the world. That’s hard to remember: we grow used to the ways we pay our bills and are paid for our work, to the dance of numbers in our bank balances and credit-card statements. It’s only at moments when the system buckles that we start to wonder why these things are worth what they seem to be worth. The credit crunch in 2008 triggered a panic when people throughout the financial system wondered whether the numbers on balance sheets meant what they were supposed to mean. As a direct response to the crisis, in October, 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto, whoever he or she or they might be, published the white paper that outlined the idea of Bitcoin, a new form of money based on nothing but the power of cryptography.

The quest for new forms of money hasn’t gone away. In June of this year, Facebook unveiled Libra, global currency that draws on the architecture of Bitcoin. The idea is that the value of the new money is derived not from the imprimatur of any state but from a combination of mathematics, global connectedness, and the trust that resides in the world’s biggest social network. That’s the plan, anyway. How safe is it? How do we know what libras or bitcoins are worth, or whether they’re worth anything? Satoshi Nakamoto’s acolytes would immediately turn those questions around and ask, How do you know what the cash in your pocket is worth?

The present moment in financial invention therefore has some similarities with the period when money in the form we currently understand it—a paper currency backed by state guarantees—was first created. The hero of that origin story is the nation-state. In all good stories, the hero wants something but faces an obstacle. In the case of the nation-state, what it wants to do is wage war, and the obstacle it faces is how to pay for it…

The ever-illuminating John Lanchester explains how, over three centuries, the heresies of two bankers became the basis of our modern economy: “The Invention of Money.”

[Lanchester’s latest novel, The Wall, was just long-listed for the Booker.]

* Yogi Berra

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As we learn from the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1861 that the U.S. government, in anticipation of the expense of the looming Civil War, levied its first income tax as part of the Revenue Act of 1861.  It assessed 3% of all incomes over $800, but included no enforcement mechanism, and so generated very little revenue.  It was revised in 1862 in a more effective form, then rescinded in 1872.

The first peace-time income tax was established in 1894, but was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (the 10th amendment forbade any powers not expressed in the US Constitution, and the Constitution provided no power to impose any other than a direct tax by apportionment).  It was in 1913, with the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that income tax became a permanent fixture in the U.S. tax system.

HR54_Revenue_Act source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

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