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Posts Tagged ‘politics

“Take a sad song and make it better”*…

 

A rehearsal of the musical <i>Hair</i> at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, September 1968

A rehearsal of Hair.  Premiered in late 1967; photo taken, 1968

 

Certain years acquire an almost numinous quality in collective memory—1789, 1861, 1914. One of the more recent additions to the list is 1968. Its fiftieth anniversary has brought a flood of attempts to recapture it—local, national, and transnational histories, anthologies, memoirs, even performance art and musical theater. Immersion in this literature soon produces a feeling of déjà vu, particularly if one was politically conscious at the time (as I was).

Up to a point, repetition is inevitable. Certain public figures and events are inescapable: the tormented Lyndon Johnson, enmeshed in an unpopular, unwinnable war and choosing to withdraw from the presidential stage; the antiwar candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy; the intensifying moral challenges posed by Martin Luther King; the assassinations of King and Kennedy; the racially charged violence in most major cities; the police riot against antiwar protesters (and anyone else who got in their way) at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the emergence of right-wing candidates—George Wallace, Richard Nixon—appealing to a “silent majority” whose silence was somehow construed as civic virtue. And the anticlimactic election: the narrow defeat of Hubert Humphrey by Nixon, who promised to “bring us together” without specifying how.

What togetherness turned out to mean was an excruciating prolongation of the war in Vietnam, accompanied by an accelerating animosity toward dissent. The effort to satisfy the silent majority by exorcising the demons of 1968 would eventually lead to the resurgence of an interventionist military policy, the dismantling of what passed for a welfare state, and the prosecution of a “war on drugs” that would imprison more Americans than had ever been behind bars before.

Revisiting this story is important and necessary. But difficulties arise when one tries to identify who those demons actually were…

Rutgers professor Jackson Lear considers several attempts to distill the lessons of the late 60s: “Aquarius Rising.”

Special bonus: film critic J. Hoberman on why, in 1968, an especially rich year for cinema, Night of the Living Dead was his pick for best movie.

* The Beatles, “Hey Jude”

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As we Let The Sunshine In, we might recall that on this date in 1968, our post’s title source, “Hey Jude,” sat at #2 on the pop chart– just ahead of “1,2,3, Redlight” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co. at #3 and The Rascals’ “People Got To Be Free” at #4… and just behind that week’s #1, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley.

jeannie-c-riley-harper-valley-pta-1968-a source

 

Written by LW

September 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong”*…

 

immigration

U.S. IMMIGRATION BY ORIGIN AT BIRTH, 1830-2015

 

From policy particulars to deep questions of morality, the issue of immigration in the United States has come up with fierce urgency in recent weeks.

But today’s immigration battles take place within a long, slowly accruing history that is difficult to grasp in its sheer scale and complexity. Tens of millions of people who represent every corner of the globe have immigrated to the U.S. over the last two centuries. The picture that emerges over time can resembles a living organism, which inspired this graphic.

Trees’ annual growth rings reflect varying environmental conditions, and these forms are not perfect circles or ellipses… Like countries, trees can be hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Cells grow slowly, and the pattern of growth influences the shape of the trunk. Just as these cells leave an informational mark in the tree, so too do incoming immigrants contribute to the country’s shape.

These immigration “rings” expand during years when certain welcoming factors are prevalent, such as when American immigration policies become less restrictive and its economy offers greater opportunity. The “rings” tend to stay slim during years of war or economic upheaval.

The origins of U.S. immigrant populations also transform from era to era. In the 1840s and 1880s, European immigrants came mainly from northern and western Europe, whereas the famous influx of  the early 1900s, symbolized by Ellis Island’s gateway, emanated mostly from southern and eastern Europe. Immigration from Asia rose between 1970 and 2000, while large-scale immigration from Latin America began in 1950 and lasted for half a century. Immigration from Africa only becomes visible in the 21st century, though early U.S. Census data omits populations of slaves and indigenous communities…

More at: “200 Years of U.S. Immigration Looks Like the Rings of a Tree.”

* George Washington

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As we muse on the melting pot, we might recall that it was on this date in 1889 that Tijuana, the largest Mexican city in Baja California was founded.  From the beginning Tijuana saw its future in tourism.  From the late 19th century to the first few decades of the 20th century, the city attracted large numbers of Californians coming for trade and entertainment. The California land boom of the 1880s led to the first big wave of tourists, who were called “excursionists” and came looking for echoes of the popular novel Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson.

These days, while the city still attracts it share of visitors from El Norte (300,000 per day), Tijuana has also become a way station for Latin American and Haitian refugees hoping to find asylum in the U.S.

275px-Zona_Rio_Tijuana source

 

Written by LW

July 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”*…

 

During the eighties, a nameless Cold Warrior grew frustrated in his job for the Department of Defense and poured out his feelings in an unusual way. He was a midlevel (GS-11/GS-12) analyst working at the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center, at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Every GS-11/GS-12 in that era would have been given a government-issue desk calendar, and this Kansas scribe made the most of his. Like a monk, he labored over his document every day, adding carefully crafted letters and elaborate drawings to what became, over nine years, a remarkably full chronicle of the decade.

There were outbursts of anger, often directed at senior officials of the U.S. government, and joyful moments of exultation, generally following victories for the University of Kansas basketball team. Events of worldly and even otherworldly significance were described in passing: the end of the Iranian hostage standoff, the Challenger disaster, small upticks and downticks in the tension of the Cold War. There were tender moments as well: memories of a friend, or an anniversary of a magical night long ago. He noted the riots in Poland and demonstrations in China and other places where the people were beginning to make themselves heard after decades of government suppression. The anonymous employee’s irrepressible spirit seems to follow a parallel course, delighting in the creation of a secret treasure trove of writings in no way approved by his superiors…

More pages ripped from history at “A Disgruntled Federal Employee’s 1980s Desk Calendar.”

* Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

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As we contemplate the chronicle, as we might spare a thought for Jean-Jacques Rousseau; he died on this date in 1778.  A central figure in te European Enlightenment, he was a novelist ( Emile, or On Education illustrated the importance of the education of the whole person for citizenship; Julie, or the New Heloise was seminal in the development of romanticism in fiction), a composer (perhaps most notably of several operas), and an autobiographer (his Confessions initiated the modern autobiography; his Reveries of a Solitary Walker exemplified the late 18th-century movement known as the Age of Sensibility, and featured an heightened subjectivity and introspection that later characterized modern writing).

But it is as a philosopher that Rousseau was best known in his time and is best remembered.  His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones of modern political and social thought.  He was deeply controversial in his time: he was condemned from the pulpit by the Archbishop of Paris, his books were burned and warrants were issued for his arrest.  But during the period of the French Revolution, Rousseau was the most popular of the philosophes among members of the Jacobin Club. He was interred as a national hero in the Panthéon in Paris, in 1794, 16 years after his death.

42307923884_4bc291b918_o source

 

 

Written by LW

July 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see”…

 

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How many social activists does it take to change the world? No, this isn’t the setup for some lame joke. It’s a question no one really knew the answer to. Until now.

We’ve seen plenty of shifts in society’s views — in just the last hundred years in America, the majority’s opinion on everything from gay rights to gender equality changed dramatically. However, we’ve never really nailed down if there was a “tipping point” for this social change — a specific number of people needed to push a belief from the fringes into the mainstream.

Estimates ranged from as low at 10 percent of a population to as high as 51 percent, but now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London claim an online experiment let them hone in on the most likely number: 25 percent. They published their study [on June 8] in the journal Science

Have your opinion sharpened (if not changed) at “Want to Change Society’s Views? Here’s How Many People You’ll Need on Your Side.”

[Image above: source]

* “For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see. In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture.”   ― Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

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As we make our case, we might recall that this the date commonly given for the day that the Pied Piper (Rattenfänger) led the children of Hamelin, Germany, into a mountain cave, never to return.

A German version of the tale has survived in a 1602/1603 inscription found in Hamelin in the Rattenfängerhaus (Pied Piper’s, or Ratcatcher’s house):

Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen verloren  

which has been translated into English as:

In the year of 1284, on John’s and Paul’s day
was the 26th of June
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours,
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
and lost at the place of execution near the Koppen.

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Written by LW

June 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity”*…

 

Some essays are letters into the future. “The Prevention of Literature” is one such essay, and today I’d like to respond to it from 2018.

Orwell argues that totalitarianism makes literature impossible. By literature, he means all kinds of writing in prose, from imaginative fiction to political journalism; he suggests that verse might slip through the cracks. He writes, too, that there is such a thing as “groups of people who have adopted a totalitarian outlook”—single-truth communities of sorts, not just totalitarian regimes or entire countries. These are deadly to literature as well.

Orwell was writing in 1946, five or seven years before scholarly works by Hannah Arendt, on the one hand, and Karl Friedrich, on the other, provided the definitions of totalitarianism that are still in use today. Orwell’s own “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” which provides the visceral understanding of totalitarianism that we still conjure up today, was a couple of years away. Orwell was in the process of imagining totalitarianism—he had, of course, never lived in a totalitarian society.

He imagined two major traits of totalitarian societies: one is lying, and the other is what he called schizophrenia. He wrote, “The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as it is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary.” The lying entailed constantly rewriting the past to accommodate the present. “This kind of thing happens everywhere,” he wrote, “but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”

He goes on to imagine that “a totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist.”

Orwell was right. The totalitarian regime rests on lies because they are lies. The subject of the totalitarian regime must accept them not as truth—must not, in fact, believe them—but accept them both as lies and as the only available reality. She must believe nothing. Just as Orwell predicted, over time the totalitarian regime destroys the very concept, the very possibility of truth. Hannah Arendt identified this as one of the effects of totalitarian propaganda: it makes everything conceivable because “nothing is true.”

As for what he called “schizophrenia,” this, too, has been borne out. In 1989, as the longest-running totalitarian experiment in the world, the U.S.S.R., neared what then appeared to have been its demise, a great sociologist named Yuri Levada and his team undertook a large study of Soviet society. He concluded that the Soviet person’s very self-concept depended on a constant negotiation of mutually exclusive perceptions: the Soviet person identified strongly with the great Soviet state and its grand experiment, and yet felt himself to be insignificant; he worshipped at the altar of modernity and progress, and yet lived in conditions of enforced poverty, often deprived of modern conveniences that even the poor in the West had come to take for granted; he believed in egalitarianism and resented evident inequality, yet accepted the extreme hierarchical order and rigid class structure of Soviet society. To live in his world—simply to function day to day, balancing between contradictory perceptions—the Soviet person had to engage in constant negotiations. In “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Orwell predicted this negotiation, and named it doublethink. You will recall that “even to understand the word doublethink involved the use of doublethink.” Doublethink destroyed the mind and crushed the soul, and yet it was essential for survival. It killed as it saved, and that, too, is doublethink.

But perhaps Orwell’s most valuable observation in this essay concerns instability. “What is new in totalitarianism,” he wrote, “is that its doctrines are not only unchallengeable but also unstable. They have to be accepted on the pain of damnation, but on the other hand, they are always liable to be altered on a moment’s notice.” Orwell had observed the disfavor and disappearance of prominent Bolsheviks and the resulting adjustments to the official narratives of the Revolution—the endlessly changing and vanishing commissars. Arendt argued that the instability was, in fact, the point and purpose of the purges: the power of the regime depended not so much on eliminating particular men at particular moments but on the ability to eliminate any man at any moment. Survival depended on one’s sensitivity to the ever-changing stories and one’s ability to mold oneself to them.

But why, exactly, did Orwell think all this was so destructive to literature?…

The marvelous Masha Gessen explains in her important essay (adapted from a lecture delivered in Barcelona at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona on June 6, 2018, in honor of Orwell Day), “George Orwell predicted the challenge of writing today.

C.f. also Cass Sunstein’s piece in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, “It Can Happen Here.”

* George Orwell

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As we say no to non-sense, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that “Liberty Enlightening the World”– a symbol of anti-totalitarian democracy and a token of friendship from the French to the U.S. that is better known these day as the “Statue of Liberty”– entered New York Harbor.  Encased in more than 200 crates, the statue was reassembled, placed on its pedestal on (what was then known as) Bedloe’s Island, then dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in October, 1886.

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Written by LW

June 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Ideology is strong exactly because it is no longer experienced as ideology”*…

 

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters argue in front of the White House while waiting for election results on November 9th, 2016, in Washington, D.C.

Confirming previous research, [Dr.  Lilliana Mason of the University of Maryland] discovered that both liberals and conservatives “hold issues positions that are generally on the left-leaning end of the spectrum.” Liberals, not surprisingly, tended to support leftist policies, but conservatives failed to provide a mirror image. Instead, on hot-button policies, they were very close to the center of the scale—which means they held positions very different from those of today’s Congressional Republicans.

In other words, Hillary Clinton supporters were “consistently left-leaning,” while Donald Trump supporters were far less consistently right-leaning. “However,” Mason adds, “both groups of voters were equally attached to their ideological identity.” Being a liberal or a conservative helped define who they were—even if they were fuzzy on what those labels actually stood for.

The effects of this are felt far beyond the voting booth. Mason reports that—actual issue positions aside—the stronger you identify with an ideology, the more you prefer marrying, or being friends with, a fellow partisan.

“Americans are dividing themselves socially on the basis of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative, independent of their actual policy differences,” Mason concludes. “It is the ‘otherness’ of ideological opponents, more than issue-based disagreement, that drives liberal-vs.-conservative rancor.”

“This is likely to lead to a less compromise-oriented electorate,” she adds. “After all, if policy outcomes are less important than team victory, a policy compromise is a useless concession to the enemy.”…

New research supports the conclusion that our attachment to political labels is based more on social identity than policy positions: “Ideology isn’t really about issues.”

* Slavoj Žižek, In Defense of Lost Causes

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As we rethink identity politics, we might send wonder-filled birthday greetings to Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (née Liddell); she was born on this date in 1852.  Ten years later, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a young Oxford mathematics don, took the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College– Alice Liddell and her sisters– on a boating picnic on the River Thames in Oxford.  To amuse the children he told them the story of a little girl, sitting, bored, by a riverbank, whose adventure begins when she tumbles down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called “Wonderland.”  The story so captivated the 10-year-old Alice that she begged him to write it down.  The result was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 under the pen name “Lewis Carroll,” with illustrations by John Tenniel.

Alice Liddell (photo by Charles Dodgson

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“All that is solid melts into air”*…

 

As a partner in a corporate advisory firm and a professor of law and finance, we are true believers in free-market capitalism — hardly natural latter-day communists, let alone successors to Marx and Engels. But we do believe the time is ripe for a rewrite of their Manifesto. Like the inhabitants of mid-19th century Europe, we live, according to Oxford University’s Professor Alan Morrison, “in the wake of a calamitous financial crisis and in the midst of whirlwind social change, a popular distaste of financial capitalists, and widespread revolutionary activity”. We have imagined what Marx and Engels would have written in 2018, naming the new, updated version “The Activist Manifesto”…

So how did the two of us come to take on the renovation of the Manifesto? The answer, improbably perhaps, is our interest in a linchpin of modern free-market capitalism: shareholder activism. We have published academic studies on the phenomenon. We have advised many of the largest hedge funds as they take substantial stakes in hundreds of comp­anies, shaking up complacent boards and advocating for changes in corporate strategy and capital structure. And we have advised companies that themselves have pursued change. These activists may not be what Marx and Engels had in mind, but they are revolutionaries of a kind…

In our redrafting, we have had to go far beyond merely substituting “communism” with “activism”. The “Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies” and others in Marx’s and Engels’ sights have gone. We have introduced their modern counterparts: “the corporate Haves, the elites, the billionaires, the establishment politicians of the Republican and Democratic parties, Conservatives and Labour, the talking heads at Davos, the echo chambers of online media and fake news.” But we have kept much of the rhetoric along with Marx’s and Engels’ relentless focus on economic inequality. Two centuries after Marx’s birth, and however much communism has rightly been discredited, a great deal of the argument is as relevant now as it was then. The Manifesto’s theories about the problems of capitalism and the capitalist mode of production continue to be cited in critiques of unfettered markets, and the document’s historical analysis is cited by modern scholars and taught in universities today. Some historians have cited it as the most influential text of the 19th century. Its reverberations are still felt today…

The original Manifesto’s top 10 “pretty generally applicable” proposals wouldn’t get a passing grade today in any setting. Left and right alike reject its arguments on labour and property. Even leaders of so-called communist states embrace markets and decentralisation. Take North Korea, the country that has most resisted capitalism: since 2012, it has started to encourage entrepreneurship and a formal (if reluctant) acceptance of brand-led marketplaces. However, one aspect of the original still resonates: the document was, fundamentally, an attack on inequality. We think it is obvious that Marx and Engels would be appalled by the present-day distribution of wealth. We imagine they would write something like this. “By the start of our 21st century, we are faced with the extraordinary fact that the top one per cent of the world’s population own the same resources as the remaining 99 per cent. Those at the bottom are less upwardly mobile than in previous generations; entrance to wealthy gated communities is blocked, not only by private security forces, but also by the increasingly prohibitive costs of healthcare, technology and education. There is the dominant force of mass incarceration, with millions of poor, minorities and powerless walled off from the rulers they might threaten. The Haves have never in history held so much advantage over the Have-Nots.”…

Two champions of capitalism, Rupert Younger (co-author of The Reputation Game and director of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation) and Frank Partnoy (a writer and professor of law and finance who is joining the faculty at UC Berkeley this summer) explain their redrafting: “What would Karl Marx write today?

Read their revised manifesto in full (and use the “rollover” function to compare it to the original) at activistmanifesto.org.

* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Chapter One of The Communist Manifesto  (also the title of a wonderful book by Marshall Berman)

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As we reckon with revolution, we might send Hobbesian birthday greetings to Franz Oppenheimer; he was born on this date in 1864.  An economist and sociologist, we wrote prolifically (40 books and 400 essays) and influentially on political organization and the idea of the nation.   His best-known work is probably Der Staat (The State) which reflected his rejection of the concept of the “social contract” and his “conquest theory of the state.”  Like Marx, Oppenheimer considered capitalism a system of exploitation, and capital revenues the gain of that exploitation; he saw the state as the original creator of inequality.  So not surprisingly, his thinking has been influential among libertarians, communitarians, and anarchists.

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Written by LW

March 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

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