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Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights

“The future, said Herzen, was the offspring of accident and willfulness. There was no libretto or destination, and there was always as much in front as behind”*…

 

Herzen

 

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in, and admiring of, plurality. Plurality—a condition of society in which people who hold widely different beliefs and are committed to quite different values nevertheless find some way to live in relative peace with one another—is to be distinguished from pluralism, which may be described as a conviction that a society in which people pursue a great diversity of ends is intrinsically superior to a more unified society. That I don’t believe. I think that our society would be better off if we were all united by a deeply shared set of convictions—my convictions, as it happens. (Imagine that!) But I would want such singleness of vision to be freely chosen, which will obviously never happen. So in default of my ideal, I say: Better plurality than tyranny, and better a tyranny presided over by others than a tyranny presided over by me.

From this point of view, the most zealous on the contemporary American left and the contemporary American right have something fundamental in common: They never ask the question, Am I fit to rule others?” I see this self-blindness not only in electoral politics but also in intra-religious and academic disputes. They take it for granted that the rightness of their convictions makes them fit: that the justice of a cause can make a perfectly straight thing out of the crooked timber of their humanity. To be sure, I continue to say, better a tyranny presided over by others than a tyranny presided over by me; but I also say, better that none of those zealots ever achieve the power they lust for—because their very confidence in their right to rule is the most absolute disqualification for rule that I can imagine. This Alexander Herzen understood.

The central figure in Tom Stoppard’s great dramatic trilogy The Coast of Utopia (2002) is Herzen (1812–70), the first Russian socialist. From exile in England, Herzen published The Bell, which the great American critic Dwight Macdonald, the editor of an English-language edition of Herzen’s memoirs, called perhaps the most effective muckraking magazine in radical history.”…

What distinguishes Stoppard’s Herzen—which I think is a reasonably accurate portrayal of the real Herzen— from Marx and Chernyshevsky is simply that his thought is more historical than theirs. Both of them believed themselves to be deeply historical thinkers, but they had, in their different ways, settled on a complete and wholly enclosed understanding of the point that history is coming to, the point at which it will effectively conclude. They shared a sense of the telos, the goal, or end, of history...

Herzen… didn’t know where history was going or how it would get there. He understands himself to be in the midst of a great procession, one of many both before and after him to take up the cause of justice and freedom. History is plurality, even among those who share a commitment, a cause. 

This is Stoppard’s image of the true scholar and the true activist alike. In Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia, Septimus Hodge consoles his pupil Lady Thomasina Coverly when she cries out in grief for all the lost plays of the Athenians”: We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short.” And Stoppard’s Herzen, near the end of this magnificent trilogy, finds the same consolation and expresses it with some of the same words, but even more concisely and beautifully: The idea will not perish. What we let fall will be picked up by those behind. I can hear their childish voices on the hill.”…

Why the great Russian thinker refused to pick up the axe to advance his cause: “Alexander Herzen and the Plural World.”  From Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University, a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, and proprietor of a consistently-interesting newsletter, Snakes and Ladders.

* Tom Stoppard, in an essay on Alexander Herzen

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As we ponder plurality, we might recall that it was on this date in 1834 that slavery was abolished in the British Empire, as the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 came into force (though it remained legal in the possessions of the East India Company until the passage of the Indian Slavery Act, 1843).

200px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

“Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”, 1787 medallion designed by Josiah Wedgwood for the British anti-slavery campaign

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Written by LW

August 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom.”*…

 

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ONE, Inc., was one of the first gay rights organizations in the United States. It was founded in Los Angeles in 1952 with money and leadership from U.S. groups like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, as well as Swiss magazine Der Kreis. That same year, a 7.2 earthquake shook Southern California along the White Wolf Fault, and the Emmys were awarded to shows made across the U.S. for the first time (before that, the awards just went to L.A. studios). Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz hosted the show from the Cocoanut Grove Lounge. The following year Dwight Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which said gays and lesbians were perverts, criminals, mentally ill, and must be blocked from any kind of federal employment. So much was hopeful, but at times everything felt broken and hopeless too. The digital archive of ONE, the monthly magazine published by ONE, Inc., reflects the contradictions of the time. It’s a record of endurance, legal and emotional labor, new and inherited trauma, tenderness, and joy.

The magazine was mailed internationally in unmarked brown envelopes. For safety and longevity, ONE’s all-gender board of editors often used pen names, and always depended on other jobs for food and rent. Even so, within a few months of the first ONE, the FBI identified everyone and wrote their employers, calling all staff “deviants” and “security risks” in a middle-school-style attempt to destroy health and security. Luckily, the employers largely ignored the notices, which surprised the FBI so much they shifted public attention elsewhere, for a while…

More at “ONE: The First Gay Magazine in the United States.”

Shortly after the organization’s founding, in January of 1953, the first issue of ONE Magazine was produced. ONE Magazine remained a staple of ONE, Inc., published every month and read across the nation. ONE, Inc., was the “first national, legally sanctioned organization dedicated to the promulgation of information on homosexuality,” and ONE Magazine was core to that mission. The subscriber count of the magazine peaked at around 5000, although as with many homosexual publications in that era, copies moving from person to person made up a great deal of their readership that went uncounted…

From the introduction to ONE Archives at USC Libraries, where one can browse the publication.

Remembering that Playboy debuted in the same year (1953) as ONE, your correspondent will give Somerset Maugham the last word:

My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror…

* Harvey Milk

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As we love and let love, we might recall that it was on this this date in 1598 that The Merchant of Venice was entered on the Stationer’s Register.  The copyright regimen was strict in Elizabeth’s time, as is now.  But back then, copyright was literally that, the right to make a (first) copy:  the Queen, concerned with sedition and determined to keep a tight rein on any and all published material in her realm, had decreed that no work could be printed in England without a license from the Stationer.

Shakespeare had written the play sometime between 1596 and 1598 (when a performance is mentioned by Francis Meres).  It wasn’t actually printed until 1600– in the First Quarto– by which time (the title page suggests) it had been performed “divers times.”

If you prick us, do we not bleed?  – The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1

Title page from the First Quarto (source)

 

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”*…

 

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Helen Hunt Jackson is best remembered for her novel Ramona, originally published in 1884. The story of a half Irish, half Native American orphan and her lover, Ramona was a blockbuster success. The book remains in print. At least five movie versions have been made. There have been staged Ramona plays in the Ramonabowl in Hemet, California, since 1923, with hundreds of costumed volunteers. Many credit the novel with giving birth to California tourism.

Jackson called Ramona the “sugar-coating of the pill” of her polemical mission to get Americans to reconsider their treatment of Native Americans. Jackson’s goal was policy reform. She wanted to expose genocide and land theft, the outrages that made the modern West. She wanted Ramona to have a sociopolitical effect like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The pill wasn’t swallowed. “Californians preferred the sugar coating, the vibrant costumes of a multiethnic past,” writes the literary scholar Lisa Mullenneaux in Ploughshares, not the actual colonial past with all its culpable horror…

Jackson [had been] a crusading investigative reporter. In 1881, she published a damning indictment of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans. A Century of Dishonor was the first work published under her name. She sent copies to every member of Congress. It was, as Mullenneaux describes it, “the first serious study of U.S. federal Indian policy.”

Turner calls it “the first pro-Indian book to make a significant impact on the American reading public.” It did cause a stir, but a stir was not nearly enough for Jackson. She said of her newfound social purpose to help the Indians that “a fire has been kindled within me which will never go out.”

She had few allies in this crusade. The 1871 Indian Appropriations Act had made all Native Americans wards of the state. Removals and reservations made way for white settlers and their descendants who were neither introspective nor retrospective. One journalist described Jackson as being without a “genuine sympathizer” among whites in the entire state of Colorado. Teddy Roosevelt included her among the “hysterical sentimentalists.”

What if she tried a more propagandistic approach? Ramona was the result of that tactic, a novel detailing injustice and romance, full of local color and sentiment, as well as the tragic history of the erasure of California’s native populations. The result was a smash hit—but it failed in its mission even as it became a runaway cultural phenomenon. Instead, Ramona birthed a fantasy of Ye Olde Alta California. This was costume drama instead of history. A Century of Dishonor, meanwhile, was long out of print (though not so anymore). As Mullenneaux writes, it continues to inspire those trying to right historic wrongs…

Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona Did What Her Nonfiction Couldn’t“– and vice versa.

See also: “The Story of the Great Japanese-American Novel,” No-No Boy.

* Jessamyn West

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As we muse on methods, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that the Liberty Party was announced.  The first anti-slavery political party, it was born from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document.  William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document.

The party, which ran its first slate the following year, included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics.  (By contrast, the radical Garrison opposed voting and working within the system.)  Many Liberty Party members joined the anti-slavery (but not abolitionist) Free Soil Party in 1848 and eventually helped establish the Republican Party in the 1850s.

liberty Party source

 

“We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness”*…

 

Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all things being equal, more parsimonious theories – that is to say, theories with relatively few postulations – are to be preferred. Is it not a great cost in terms of parsimony to ascribe fundamental consciousness to the Universe? Not at all. The physical world must have some nature, and physics leaves us completely in the dark as to what it is. It is no less parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature than that it has some non-consciousness-involving nature. If anything, the former proposal is more parsimonious insofar as it is continuous with the only thing we really know about the nature of matter: that brains have consciousness…

One of the thinkers quoted in (Roughly) Daily’s recent piece on panpsychismPhilip Goff, has elaborated on his argument that the Universe and everything in it is conscious.  Cosmopsychism, as he now calls the notion, might seem crazy; but as he explains, it provides a robust explanatory model for how the Universe became fine-tuned for life: “Is the Universe a conscious mind?

* Max Planck

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As we ascribe some level of sentience to absolutely everything, we might send brave birthday greetings to Fang Lizhi; he was born on this date in 1936.

An astrophysicist, vice-president of the University of Science and Technology of China, who published published a paper (in 1972) on a topic central to the argument for cosmopsychism– the Big Bang theory, previously a forbidden topic in China (Marxists claimed that the universe was infinite)– which met condemnation from the Communist Party.  He became an advocate of intellectual freedom and civic reform, whose liberal ideas helped inspire the pro-democracy student movement of 1986–87 and, finally, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989– and for which he was expelled from the Communist Party and forced into exile.

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Written by LW

February 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If they don’t have cookies in the cookie jar, they can’t eat cookies”*…

 

The staff of Food52 has gathered a repository of the world’s swellest sweets: 46 different cookies from around the world, each linked to its story and recipe.

As interestingly, they’ve opened up the drawer, inviting users to post their own favorite cookie recipes, geo-tagged to a world map.

* Suze Orman

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As we brush away the crumbs, we might recall that this is Human Rights Day, the date each year on which we celebrate the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on December 10, 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first major achievements of the new United Nations.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the Commission that wrote the Declaration, with the Spanish version

source

 

Written by LW

December 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

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