The death throes of Leviathan

***This is probably my last post here. Thanks to those who have read any of my bullshit.***

He might think of it as a worm, a giant worm, not a living worm but a carcass of a worm, a monstrous cadaver, its body consisting of numerous segments, its skin pimpled with spears and wheels and other technological implements. He knows from his own experience that the entire carcass is brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside, the zeks who operate the springs and wheels, just as he knows that the cadaverous head is operated by a mere zek, the head zek.

[…]

Everything is artifice, and whatever is not will soon be artifice. There is nothing outside but raw materials ready and waiting to be processed and transformed into Leviathanic excrement, the substance of the universe. Some raw materials resist the transformation more than others, but none can withstand the inexorable March of Progress.

I’ve long considered Fredy Perlman’s Leviathan to be a useful metanarrative for the totality of modern-day society (or culture, civilization, “the way things are,” etc.). In Against His-story Against Leviathan! he reimagines and recontextualizes the forms and functions of Hobbes’s Leviathan as it rampages across the globe. There have been numerous Leviathans throughout human history, continually configuring and reconfiguring, dissolving and recombining, but we have long since reached the point where it is One, containing most of humanity within its entrails.

With imagination, from the outside, one can perceive it in different lights, shimmering, obscuring – here it looks like a hellbeast despoiling the wild, there it looks like comfort and longer life spans granted to the fortunate. With imagination we can behold it as a collective whole – what it has done and what it is currently doing. Even then, we can only tenuously grasp the size and scale of its monstrosity.

There are many divisions within Leviathan, constantly warring against each other. Scraps are fought for by large conglomerations of entities – nation-states, corporations, revolutionary groups (both reactionary and otherwise). On a smaller scale, individuals and families fight for access to plush areas of Leviathan’s decaying interior in the hopes of remaining relatively free from the unsightliness of its worst excesses. Members of the fortunate classes do everything in their power to ensure that they and their progeny gain access to what they rightfully deserve. The unprivileged hordes, existing in the less desirable margins of Leviathan while being exploited for the benefit of their social betters, must know and accept their place for Leviathan to function properly.

Regardless of the manners in which classes of people are divided, within Leviathan we stagger ever ahead. The diffusion of control is such that there is no one person (no “head zek”), or collection of persons that can be said to have control over it. Sure, some may have more of a say in lurching this way or that, or conjuring different ways to execute its modus operandi, but it is accurate to say that it is largely autonomous. Its agenda consists of two primary components: depositing the raw materials of the earth into its gaping maw and, in its gut, cohering these raw materials into products which diffuse into every nook and cranny within the great creature. The primary concerns are related to how to go about doing this in the most profitable and efficient manner possible. These products – with their congealed and abstracted environmental destruction and human misery – find their way via labyrinthine pathways into every facet of human life. Surrounded by the fruits of mass production almost every second of every day, it is as impossible to conceive of the human/environmental costs of each and every product as it is to conceive of life without them.

In Leviathan’s wake, vibrant mountains are converted into poisonous slag heaps, bountiful estuaries into anoxic dead zones, biologically diverse forests into denuded greenhouse gas producing pasturelands. In short, converting the living into the dead. Capitalism and industrialization are the steroids that catalyzed pre-existing processes and kicked it into overdrive [1]. But it would miss the point to apportion blame solely to these hyperobjects – the origins of what we have wrought transcends both of these human creations, as elaborated by Perlman and many, many others.

Outside, there is no life, no existence – only materials waiting be consumed. Though that is not entirely accurate: there does happen to be some form of existence, however it is – as Hobbes contends – nasty, brutish and short. It is barely worthy of legibility to Leviathan, unless, at some point, it is determined that it stands in the way of Progress. Otherwise, there is little to no utility in its quasi-existence.

***

A few weeks back, the IPCC released yet another damning report about industrialized capitalism and its conduciveness to the continued existence of human and non-human life. Like this essay, its contents are broadly similar to what has been written, researched, and reported on 2, 5, and 10 years ago. More will be written – albeit with updated scientific data – 2, 5, or 10 years in the future. When confronted with this, many will shake their heads sadly and get on with their day. Because what else can you do? We are so habituated to “the way things are,” that we cannot conceive of how to live outside of the suffocating confines of Leviathan. This is unfortunate because there is the possibility that we will, out of necessity, be forced to do so.

To live with the prospect of impending, though vaguely defined doom is new to those of us that have never labored under the delusion of a religion-inspired apocalypse. It is also new to those too young to have lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation. What we are collectively facing is frustratingly vague – if it weren’t, if it were easy to comprehend its enormity, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves. Perhaps more of us would actually perform meaningful actions to stop it.

I do not know what it’s like to believe that Jesus, with a flaming sword protruding from his mouth, will descend from heaven heralding the apocalypse. I do not know what it was like to live in fear of nuclear annihilation. The Bible’s vision of the endtimes is fantastical, but comprehensible. Nuclear annihilation is all too easy to understand. Both are less complicated and easier to grasp than what the depredations of the Anthropocene (the crystallization of Leviathan’s aforementioned modus operandi) and catabolic capitalism have in store [2].

***

Some see Leviathan for what it is and wish to extinguish its death-drive by any means short of violence against others. Thus far, despite scattered and localized success via direct action, their efforts have done little to so much as slow its gait. Their small numbers have left them largely unable to conjure tumors, or abscesses. When they do, they are easily ignored or scarred over. Moreover, Leviathan’s antibodies have proven to be very adept at infiltrating, entrapping, and mitigating infections.

Excepting illegal resistance – denied by most as desirable – leaves only the usual, unsuccessful means that have also utterly failed thus far: encouragement of responsible personal lifestyle choices and, especially in the heart of Leviathan, voting for the party that is partially less beholden to the same world-destroying interests as the grotesque party of rank bigotry, ignorance and gleeful earth annihilation. To think or believe this is sufficient is sheer wishful thinking – you may as well decide which god you find most likely to exist and get praying.

The balance of power in Washington has subtly shifted with the Democrats winning the house. Leaving aside what the political ramifications of this will be for the next two years, what if the Republicans maintain power in the next presidential election? Then what? Marches? Protests? Devastatingly witty and hilarious infotainment from celebrities and comedians? More liberal vote-shaming? More exhortations for mindful, “ecologically sound” consumerism? Not using plastic bags or straws? Will it be the same old shit that has proven unable to halt or slow our culture’s death march? Probably. And yet, much of the same things would happen under a more liberal administration but, insidiously, also containing the false sense of security that many will have with “the right people” regaining power. After all, 8 years of Obama did little to halt climate change, environmental destruction, and mass production/mass consumption (the same goes for income inequality, US imperialism, institutionalized racism, the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline, etc.).

On the heels of the latest damning report from the IPCC, millions are, as they have been for years, exposed to insipid bullshit like this:

See how easy it is? You can even feel a smug sense of superiority for your enlightened consumerism. After all, you’re doing YOUR part, and the only discomfort you need feel is in your pocketbook, as environmentally conscious products tend to be more expensive. (I kind of feel ripped off because I actually do many things considered to be “green” – and have for many years – but weirdly enough it hasn’t appeared to have made a difference (this should go without saying, but none of this should be taken as an argument against doing “green” things))

It should be obvious, but the vast majority of carbon emissions are the result of multinational corporations. So you reading this – assuming you are not a captain of industry – are not responsible for the existence of Leviathan and what it is doing to both its inhabitants and its host. What you do and don’t do within the context of living your day-to-day life probably doesn’t matter. You were born into a socio-politico-economic system you played no part in creating. However, you (and me) are responsible for attempting to stop those who maintain and perpetuate this destructive, fundamentally unequal/unjust socio-politico-economic system (that is, if you grant my premise, which I’m sure many of you don’t). Especially if you are a beneficiary of it. I won’t speak for anyone else but I know I’m failing.

***

If I’m correct that we are neither close to nor will ever be close to voluntarily reigning in Leviathan’s worst excesses, what is most likely to occur is a series of Hail Marys on a global scale. Geoengineering is inevitable – leave it to the First World to put our hopes in fixes that will allow us to maintain our lifestyle. In doing so we will, as we approach nearly every systemic problem, address only the symptoms while leaving the root causes undisturbed. It’s the easy way out (not that the specific geoengineering projects will be easy). We won’t abandon our hyper-consumptive lifestyles without being forced to do so. Perhaps these projects will enable “the way things are” to continue for the foreseeable future, and thus prolonging the inevitable need to confront the contradiction implicit in capitalism’s “infinite economic growth on a finite planet” ethos. Maybe this new Scientific Revolution could enable the oppressed classes to lead better lives – though if neoliberal capitalism continues as the global economic system this is almost impossible to believe.

In addition to the widespread implementation of geoengineering and its promises for a better tomorrow, there are two other broad paradigms that could be in store: the proliferation of dictatorships as resources dwindle and the consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore [3]; or collapse, as efforts to prop up Leviathan fail, leaving large amounts of people, land and resources outside of centralized state control.

If a series of collapses were to occur, the resulting communities would be kaleidoscopic in how they develop over time and depend on an uncountable number of variables: population density, environmental conditions, access to land and water, culture, religion, food acquisition techniques, self-defense abilities, base of knowledge of the natural world, and, perhaps most importantly, the extent to which any specific community is able to deal with breakdowns in the product distribution networks that are the hallmark of modern-day civilized life. Some will be violent and tyrannical. Some less so. Some friendly, others insular. Some will flourish, others will suffer and die. Some will defy conventional means of description. Most will be mixtures of every trait imaginable. And none will be static, as human communities are fluid and continuously changing.

Looking to the past, human societies have existed in countless forms throughout our history as a species [4]. To continue with the thematic narrative of the previous paragraph, some have been more egalitarian, some less so. Some relatively peaceful, some warlike. Some completely vegetarian and others almost entirely carnivorous. There have been socially stratified hunter-gatherers, and egalitarian agricultural villages. There have even been many societies that walked away from collapsed central power and thrived. Most of them haven’t rendered wide swathes of the planet uninhabitable for their human and non-human neighbors (the WWF recently determined that we have “wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.”). And, perhaps, a number of post-collapse communities will tap into that legacy.

***

Cycling back to our present-day quagmire, to channel comrade Lenin, what is to be done? Shall we seize power and transition to some kind of eco-socialist economy that equitably distributes goods and services in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere [5]? Vote actual leftists into power in the hopes of mitigating at least some of the detrimental effects of mass production (and institutionalized racism, economic inequality, etc.)? Is it sufficient to merely find concrete ways to dissuade those who profit the most off of earth’s destruction? Should we myopically enact doomsday prepper fantasies? Participate in decentralized mutual aid networks in preparation for inevitable discrete and ongoing disasters that states are unable/unwilling to adequately address? Should we destroy oil extraction infrastructure? Torch gas guzzling vehicles and aircraft? Dismantle power-plant apparatuses? Or do we sit back, cling to our lifestyles based on extraction and consumption, and hope that Science and Technology, in conjunction with the friendlier capitalist political party, will save us?

Such is the immensity of Leviathan that there is an infinite number of things one can do. Such is the immensity of Leviathan that it is unknown to what extent anything one can do will actually matter – both globally and, to a lesser extent, locally. What is to be done?

There is one possible endgame – some of Leviathan’s inhabitants may claw their way out of its corpse, behold the world in a new light, and build societies on top of its decomposing remains. They may use the putrefying entrails, but these communities can work to ensure that they are never able to recombine into another monstrous iteration of Leviathan, and thus begin the world-destroying process anew. Maybe they’ll dance on the rotting husk of what used to be a world-encompassing death machine.

One may write this off as utopian and naïve. And you are very justified in thinking this, at least for those of us firmly entrenched in Leviathan. But for the indigenous the world over – from the Sentinelese in the Andaman Islands, to the San in southern Africa, to the Sami in northern Scandinavia, to the Mohawk Nation in Akwesasne straddling the border of the U.S and Canada (to say nothing of exploited, terrorized and endangered nonhuman animals) – it’s not at all inconceivable. Their hope lies in the death throes of Leviathan not taking them down as it feeds upon itself.

Perhaps I’m just plain wrong – a wild-eyed, Nietzschean madman stumbling about, howling “industrial civilization is killing the planet!” instead of “God is dead!” Steven Pinker might just be right about the likes of me. As I write this in my office cubicle, I can’t fathom how anyone in my vicinity would seriously consider more than a few things I’ve written to have merit (the same goes, I think, for many readers who’ve made it this far). Like me, they want to finish their work, go home, and live their lives. They have other things to worry about. Broadly, tomorrow will be like today. Next week will look like last week. Next month will be similar to last month. But it seems as if we are inching closer to… something. After all, our culture’s doomsday prophesiers are not the charlatans of yore; instead, they are those to whom we in the West have entrusted the empirical study of the totality of existence to.

In closing, I’m reminded of Ishmael, by the late Daniel Quinn, which is sadly even more relevant today than it was in 1992. The novel features a series of conversations between Ishmael, a gorilla-sage, and the unidentified narrator, a surrogate for the privileged, civilized man who senses things maybe aren’t so great:

Ishmael frowned […] “As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost — something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”

“I’m not a stand-up comic.”

“But you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“Not that kind of writer.”

Ishmael shrugged. “Lucky you. You are absolved of any obligation. Self-absolved.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What were you expecting to learn from me? An incantation? A magic word that would sweep all the nastiness away?”

“No.”

“Ultimately, it would seem you’re no different from those you profess to despise: You just wanted something for yourself. Something to make you feel better as you watch the end approach.”

[…]

“One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’ ”

“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live — and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”

“But to what? We can’t just walk away from our civilization the way the Hohokam did.”

“That’s certainly true. The Hohokam had another way of life waiting for them, but you must be inventive — if it’s worthwhile to you. If you care to survive.” He gave me a dull stare. “You’re an inventive people, aren’t you? You pride yourselves on that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then invent.”

__________

[1] It is both tragic and somewhat fitting that the home city of the Venetian Octopus (Perlman’s term for pre-modern sea-based Leviathans), which played an integral role in the rise of globalized capitalism, will likely be rendered uninhabitable by it.

[2] Craig Collins describes catabolic capitalism as “a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it. As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.” This already exists in parts of the world – the question is to what extent the affluent West will experience it. The article is well worth reading in full and I can’t help but quote a bit more of it:

Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

[…]

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking nature for profit. Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one. [emphasis added]

[3] Again I quote Collins:

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism [the most recent example being the absolutely vile Bolsonaro in Brazil]. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

[4] One can find sources just about anywhere. While writing this, I had in mind Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott and Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by Peter Gelderloos. I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase them so, if interested, check out this rather long article by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

[5] Unlike the Soviet and Maoist Leviathans – both as adept at world destruction as the capitalist West – hopefully this new “dictatorship of the proletariat” would actually progress towards a state in which the very scaffolds propping up Leviathan wither away. Seems unlikely.

Arguments over the legacy of Howard Zinn

I consider A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Though I haven’t so much as looked at it in 15 or so years, I can’t understate how much it has affected my worldview.

With my admission of bias out of the way, let’s move on.

Slate published an article from Sam Wineburg, Professor of Education and History at Stanford, that discusses how APH is problematic on many levels, bereft of references, and all-around bad history:

But in other ways—ways that strike at the very heart of what it means to learn history as a discipline—A People’s History is closer to students’ state-approved texts than its advocates are wont to admit. Like traditional textbooks, A People’s History relies almost entirely on secondary sources, with no archival research to thicken its narrative. Like traditional textbooks, the book is naked of footnotes, thwarting inquisitive readers who seek to retrace the author’s interpretative steps. And, like students’ textbooks, when A People’s History draws on primary sources, these documents serve to prop up the main text but never provide an alternative view or open a new field of vision.

Zinn’s undeniable charisma turns dangerous, especially when we become attached to his passionate concern for the underdog. The danger mounts when we are talking about how we educate the young, those who do not yet get the interpretive game, who are just learning that claims must be judged not for their alignment with current issues of social justice but for the data they present and their ability to account for the unruly fibers of evidence that jut out from any interpretative frame. It is here that Zinn’s power of persuasion extinguishes students’ ability to think and speaks directly to their hearts.

This could ring true for any youth who doesn’t get the “interpretive game,” and certainly applies to every textbook in every history course. Why Zinn is singled out says a lot about Wineburg. Moreover, by virtue of Zinn’s iconoclastic portrayal of American history, it may force the student to actually think far more than they would when receiving the turgid received wisdom of mainstream American doctrine – whether that’s the catalyst for further investigation, or constructing a reactionary defense for the venerable stars and stripes. One might even say it jump-starts the “interpretive game.” It definitely played a part in that for me.

In the 38 years since its original publication, A People’s History has gone from a book that buzzed about the ear of the dominant narrative to its current status, where in many circles it has become the dominant narrative. It shows up on college reading lists for economics, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies courses, along with history. A People’s History (in its various editions and adaptations) remains a perennial favorite in courses for future teachers, and in some of these classes, it is the only history book on the syllabus.

A citation is sorely needed for this (something he accuses Zinn of not doing). Anecdotally, I know of no one who had to read it for any high school or college course, much less it being the ONLY one. Noted douchebag Jonathan Chait tweeted the following about this:

After receiving responses akin to what I wrote, he qualifies his initial tweet by saying he “received several replies like this from MSM journalists. I have no idea if using Zinn as a primary text is common, but i’s [sic] a thing that happens.” One response I enjoyed comes from Professor of Russian History at Georgetown, Greg Afinogenov:

The tweet thread devolves from there as one expects from Twitter with many proponents of many viewpoints tearing each other apart. Regardless, the prevalence of APH as a primary text doesn’t seem to have much evidence.

For what it’s worth, in 2015 Politifact, in response to a claim made by Rick Santorum, rated the question “Is book by Howard Zinn the ‘most popular’ high-school history textbook?” as mostly false.

The final point of Wineburg’s I bring up in order to introduce a rebuttal written by David Detmer, Professor of History at Notre Dame, and author of the recently released Zinnophobia. Wineburg writes:

In many ways, A People’s History and traditional textbooks are mirror images that relegate students to roles as absorbers, not analysts, of information—only at different points on the political spectrum. In a study that examined features of historical writing, linguist Avon Crismore found that historians frequently use qualifying language to signal the soft underbelly of historical certainty. However, when she looked at historians’ writing in textbooks, such linguistic markers disappeared. A search through A People’s History for qualifiers mostly comes up short. Instead, the seams of history are concealed by the presence of an author who speaks with thunderous certainty.

One of Detmer’s more devastating critiques comes in response to this:

How, then, does Wineburg demonstrate that Zinn’s text is “closed-minded,” and exhibits “undue certainty”? He argues that, whereas “historians frequently use qualifying language to signal the soft underbelly of historical certainty,” Zinn does not do so: “a search in A People’s History for qualifiers mostly comes up empty”; Zinn’s approach “detests equivocation and extinguishes perhapsmaybemight, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand.”

Well then, are Wineburg’s claims true? For example, does Zinn’s text “extinguish” the word “perhaps”? To the contrary, his book employs that term a total of 101 times, not counting instances in which the word appears in quotations, or in Zinn’s paraphrases of the views of others. Zinn uses this “extinguished” word on pages 2, 5, 11, 16 (twice), 17, 18 (three times), 21, 22, 29 (twice), 32, 36 (twice), 37, 47, 49 (twice), 60, 67, 77, 81, 99, 110, 112, 114, 120, 138, 141, 162, 172 (three times), 174, 185, 188, 208 (twice), 233, 236, 238, 242, 249, 268, 273, 281, 289, 294, 326, 331, 340, 354, 357 (twice), 360, 366, 372, 387, 395 (three times), 404, 422 (twice), 426, 427, 428, 443 (twice), 449, 459, 463, 484, 486, 501, 506, 510, 511, 514, 517, 519, 557, 564 (twice), 567, 585, 591, 594, 596, 597 (three times), 598, 619, 636, 638, 648, 655, and 679.

Similarly, while it is true that Zinn uses “maybe” and “might” infrequently, he makes up for it by using “seem,” “seems,” and “seemed” to qualify many of his assertions. Excluding the use of these words in quotations from others, Zinn himself employs them in A People’s History 130 times. They can be found on pages 5, 14, 15, 19, 35, 40 (three times), 47, 50, 53, 54, 60, 61, 65, 66, 68, 70 (twice), 72, 79, 80, 83, 86 (twice), 90, 95, 99, 100 (three times), 103, 104, 106, 109, 136, 142, 150, 160, 164, 198, 219, 228, 235, 264, 273, 295, 301, 303, 346, 353 (twice), 359 (twice), 374, 382 (twice), 395, 402 (twice), 409, 410, 411, 414, 418, 419, 422, 424, 425, 426, 428, 434, 440, 441 (twice), 442 (twice), 450, 453, 459, 463, 474, 476, 479, 492, 499, 504 (twice), 506, 510, 512, 523, 524, 536, 541, 546, 548, 553, 554, 555 (twice), 559, 561, 562, 564, 565 (twice), 575, 576, 579, 582, 584, 585, 594, 595, 596 (twice), 597, 599, 610, 611, 612, 613, 621, 638 (three times), 676, and 679 (twice).

Even “on the other hand,” the qualifying phrase that Wineburg claims to be, from the standpoint of a dogmatist like Zinn, “the most execrable of all,” is not “extinguished,” but rather appears fifteen times in A People’s History, not counting its use in a quotation from another writer. More to the point, the idea that there is another “hand,” that is, another side to things—evidence that points in a direction other than, and often opposite to, what Zinn has been saying, is expressed often in his text. It is just that he doesn’t usually mark this with the phrase “on the other hand,” preferring “still,” “yet,” “and yet,” “though,” “although,” “nevertheless,” “but,” and several other words and phrases. Sometimes he simply begins a new sentence or paragraph by laying out counterevidence to what he has been saying or arguing, without indicating this with any special word or phrase.

This, to me, is pretty strong evidence against one of Wineburg’s main theses (in my opinion, the rest of them are also pretty much demolished by Detmer). Detmer further singles out specific events and painstakingly shows why Wineburg’s interpretation of Zinn’s presentation of the event in question appears to be faulty.

Detmer continues:

What might a more complete analysis reveal? First, by nearly all accounts, including those of Zinn’s critics, A People’s History is clearer, and written in a more agreeable style, than other standard American history texts. Secondly, Zinn’s text, because of his definite point of view and strong authorial presence, exhibits a coherence and consistency of tone that greatly enhances its readability. In this respect it differs markedly from the competitor texts, many of which are written by committee. These texts typically strive to be “objective” and inoffensive, with the result that they largely consist of masses of facts piled promiscuously on top of one another, in such a way as to make no point, tell no story, and hold no one’s interest. Clear, well-written books with a consistent point of view are more likely to be read than are bland, play-it-safe, compendiums of unthreatening facts. Thirdly, Zinn’s book pays substantial, and largely positive, attention to people who are often slighted in traditional texts: women, blacks, other racial and ethnic minorities, laborers, artists, writers, musicians, and political radicals. Students who are members of these groups, or are children of parents who are, may well as a result take a greater interest in A People’s History than they would in a book that excludes, marginalizes, or denigrates them [emphasis added – this more than anything is what has stayed with me over the years; it’s what I loved most and thought was so important about APH]. Fourthly, Zinn’s book offers an understanding of American society that runs counter to the dominant narrative that one encounters relentlessly throughout the culture. Accordingly, it seems likely that it would challenge some readers (principally those who have accepted the dominant narrative) and inspire others (primarily those who have been marginalized by that narrative, or who, for some other reason, have regarded it with suspicion). All of these factors seem likely to result in Zinn’s book being read, analyzed, pondered, discussed, quarreled with, and argued about much more than is the case with traditional texts.

Detmer ends by circling back to the idea of “certainty” and critiques Wineburg’s unwarranted certainty and contrasts it with his conception of how much of it is supposedly displayed by Zinn:

But Wineburg exhibits no doubt that he knows better than the hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers [out of some 3.2 million high school teachers (the fraction of which teach history I don’t know) plus another 21,000 professors of history, this is a pretty small percentage of the total] who seem to think that they are achieving good educational outcomes by teaching Zinn’s text. As a measure of his certainty, consider the following chart, which shows, both in his original American Educator essay and the updated Slate version, the number of times he uses “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “on the other hand” (not counting their use in quotations from others) when he is writing about Zinn:

“perhaps”  “maybe” “on the other hand”
American Educator article 0 0 0
Slate article 0 0  0

Oops! I forgot that in arriving at these statistics I also had to exclude Wineburg’s use of these words in sentences in which he claims that Zinn’s failure to use them condemns him as a closed-minded dogmatist.

In sum, Wineburg’s essays do indeed succeed in calling attention to work that is “closed-minded” and guilty of “undue certainty.” But this work is that of Sam Wineburg, not Howard Zinn.

The arguments in Wineburg’s article might make sense if APH is widely used and recognized as the be-all end-all of how one learns about US history. I don’t think this is the case and I don’t think many actually think it. This is not to say APH is beyond reproach – I’m certain if I reread it I would find faults with it. But I doubt they would line up with what Wineburg thinks.

Finally – Detmer may want to consider sending Wineburg a thank you note for lofting up easily refuted softballs right before the release of his book. Unfortunately, a quick Google search shows that his response has only shown up in George Washington University’s History News Network and Counterpunch. Neither of which has the readership of Slate. It’s pretty shitty to think how many were introduced to Zinn this way.

The pope should shut the fuck up about indigenous resistance

[Note: I wrote almost all of this blog before learning of Caine’s passing. I only interacted with her a few times, but I was repeatedly struck by how fierce she was in her writings. She will be missed.

Some months back, she had written that she’d like to see her fellow bloggers write about indigenous issues and we had a little back and forth about it. A coincidence, then, that it is the topic of this post. Condolences to those who knew and loved her best, and anyone else who’s enjoyed her work on FtB.]

Via The Onion:

In a historic admission of the Catholic church’s complicated and often shameful history, Pope Francis admitted in an informal public statement Thursday that “like, 97 percent” of Catholic leadership are “probably burning in hell right now.” “Believe me, contemporary Catholics are quite familiar with our legacy of murder, rape, cultural exploitation, and thievery on every scale from splitting up South America for silver rights down to just stealing stuff—make no mistake, most of those holy men were simply terrible people who deserve to fry in their own considerable fat for eternity,” said His Holiness, who took time during an informal lunch meeting with interfaith leaders to deliver a capsule history of manifold crimes committed by Vatican higher-ups, complete with a running commentary on the church’s long tradition of manipulating and mistreating its devotees. “Keep in mind this was just the stuff they did to other Catholics—at least, they were Catholic when those vicious scoundrels were done with them. Well, they’re paying for it in searing pain and screams now. Oh, and if someone wouldn’t convert, or couldn’t be converted by force? That’s when we get into Crusades, the Inquisitions, Spanish and others, the name of Christ invoked in the slaughter of native peoples, which is why their eyes will forever boil from out of their roasting skulls.

This is one of the many times I lament the fact that The Onion is #fakenews. What a welcome sentiment this would be in light of the Cool Pope’s somewhat recent shitty comments on the Mapuche conflict in Chile (this is something I meant to write about way back in January). First, though, who are the Mapuche and what made Francis think he had the right to tell them what to do? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

[T]he arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century seems to have triggered the amalgamation of several indigenous groups and the forging of closer social and cultural ties, all of which is part of what we know today as the history of the Mapuche identity. The Mapuche people rebelled against Spanish subjugation and burned the cities built by the European colonizers south of the Bío Bío River. This rebellion marked the beginning of the Arauco War, in which Spain was forced to maintain a professional army to guard its territorial borders and to recognize Mapuche autonomy within indigenous lands. The Mapuche people did not submit to outside rule until 1882, when the Army of the Republic of Chile began its campaign for the “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” The campaign came in response to the urgent need to conquer usable land and was driven by an ideology that sought to eliminate indigenous groups by “civilizing” them. After the Chilean military victory, the process of colonization by European and local mestizo settlers was facilitated by restricting local indigenous inhabitants to small plots of communally held land. The direct consequences of this process for Mapuche society included a drastic decrease in their territory through reiterated, large scale usurpation, dependence on the Government as an external agent, and the breakdown of Mapuche society due to the loss of authority of the lonkos or chiefs.

The struggle has continued in fits and starts to the present day, with different groups pursuing different ends with different means – some are peaceful and some engage in property destruction (what the state and media refer to as terrorism) [1].

Their current adversaries are the usual suspects: a panoply of different entities including the state and military, non-indigenous landowners, the Catholic Church, and, of course, foreign & domestic capitalists:

Today, the Mapuche people are fighting to recover their territorial rights in the Araucanía Region. In these efforts, they confront forestry companies as well as the military. The consequences of the conflict are dramatic. Levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy in this region are the highest in the country.

Moreover, the mass media labels Mapuche protests as “terrorist,” misleading the general public and encouraging the spread of violence. The economic consortiums that control the forestry industry in the region also own the national mass media. This relationship fuels the conflict, protects specific economic interests, and validates military intervention against the Mapuche.

As for Cool Pope, he became upset because churches were burned in Mapuche territory. But, why would such things be done?

Between 1818 and 1950 during the first stage of Chilean colonization, the Chilean State used methods of evangelization [that] were used to submit and dominate the Mapuche People.

This meant the internal plunder of the self or person (what the Chilean government and the bishopric class calls the desecration of faith). Our Machi [Medicine Healers]  were demonized, and their rewe [medicines] plundered and destroyed. Our sacred spaces (tren tren, trayenco, mawizantu) destroyed and eliminated, and among the ruins they planted pine and eucalyptus, houses and churches were built, and we were confined to spiritual and emotional imbalance.

In the definitive occupation of our territory, the Catholic Church played an outstanding, even military, role, acting as the vanguard in the displacement and occupation of Wallmapu [Mapuche Territory]. They were not only the transmitters of dominant norms and values, but also controlled and punished indigenous transgressors, prohibiting the continued belief in their traditional ways, imposing determined values of resignation, obedience and respect to so-called superiors.

Currently, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church owns all educational facilities in the Araucanía Region, and that every school serves as its economic bastion.

So into the fray he descends, bestowing these words of wisdom:

You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division [actually, one can definitely do that – Christians were able to assert themselves all over the fucking world by destroying others and their culture. Also, burning churches isn’t the same as destroying others]. Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”[By that logic, wouldn’t violence perpetrated by Christians in the name of Christianity turn Christianity into a lie? Nah – how silly of me to apply his own words to his religion] [2]

Anyways, the pope is an asshole. That he’s apologized for Catholic complicity in the horrors of colonialism (which, next to absolutely nothing, is the bare minimum the Catholic church should have done a long time ago) certainly doesn’t grant him moral high ground – especially when the legacies of those horrors are ongoing and still perpetuated by members of his flock.

You don’t get to tell people who have been oppressed for generations by adherents of your religion how to resist their oppressors. Although, far be it from me to tell the infallible messenger of God what to do – but the Mapuche are eminently justified in telling him to fuck off.


[1] There was an incident in 2013 where white landowners, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, were burned alive in their home by Mapuche protesters. I was only going to briefly mention this, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole. The details are sketchy, but this occurred on the five year anniversary of a Mapuche activist shot by police on Luchsinger’s property. Both situations, the shooting and arson, were preceded by conflicts/arguments that lead to death.

There was one conviction for the arson. Most recently, 11 other defendants were acquitted, with the ruling stating there was “not enough proof to support the prosecution’s allegation that it was a terrorist attack or a premeditated plan to stir fear and pressure farmers into leaving their land.”

To give more context, the Luchsinger family

arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government’s colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The nephew of the deceased couple stated that “with this attack it seems that my prophecy was being fulfilled that the region is suffering attacks to empty farmers and entrepreneurs.” So long as the farmers and entrepreneurs remain, his prophecy may continue to be fulfilled on a somewhat regular basis.

[2] I don’t really consider burning churches as violence. One can’t commit violence against a non-sentient object. I used to think this without qualification, until I considered domestic abusers and their victims – an abuser using property destruction as an intimidation tactic certainly qualifies as violence, not to mention it being unjustified and reprehensible.

To me, when the power disparity is such that those with far less power commit property destruction against individuals or entities with far greater power, I’m not inclined to view it as violence (whether or not I agree with the cause will ultimately influence if I see it as warranted or not). The burning of Catholic churches in indigenous territory may cause psychological harm to Catholics who work there, but I don’t really give a shit – the enormity of the historical and contemporary crimes & injustices perpetrated against the Mapuche by the entity they freely chose to join utterly dwarfs destroyed property. But that’s just me.

I’m more comfortable being openly atheist than openly against the US military

I’ve never been shy about being an atheist. It’s not something I bring up among coworkers or acquaintances. But, if asked, I’m very comfortable talking about it. People close to me know and are respectful. There are other things I believe, however, that I don’t really like talking about.

Four American soldiers were killed in Niger, a country most Americans never heard of and even fewer could point out on a map. Many probably weren’t aware we were there in the first place, but it shouldn’t be too surprising. In 2015, the US had more than 800 bases in 70 countries. Somewhat hilariously, the senate has little idea of where and what our benevolent global police force is doing:

“Senator McCain is frustrated, rightly so, we don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world militarily and what we’re doing,” Graham said, adding that with McCain’s system: “We’ll know how many soldiers are there, and if somebody gets killed there, that we won’t find out about it in the paper.”

Dead soldiers rarely warrant more than a few days of media coverage. However, the dumpster president fucking up what should have been a simple condolence call has kept the story in public eye much longer than normal. Not that anyone really cares about what the US is doing in Niger. The media (damn you MSM!) isn’t particularly interested in giving us a nuanced, comprehensive look at the recent and historical geopolitical ramifications of US intervention in the Sahel:

The media’s efforts should have been devoted to exploring — really exploring — why Rangers (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media’s explanation.)

That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it’s all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country — no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story.

But maybe we should just accept the obvious reason we’re in Niger: to teach them “how to respect human rights.” I, for one, can’t think of a better teacher.

The first paragraph was written to contrast my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) with my feelings about the military. While I’m fine being an open atheist, I go out of my way to not bring up my feelings about the US military, specifically the people that eagerly join. Most people I associate with on a regular basis, very generally-speaking, fall somewhere on the left side of the spectrum, somewhere between Clinton and Sanders. But most would not take kindly to questioning the valor, sacrifice, and altruism of the troops. Critiquing US hegemony is mostly fine, but that’s where it ends. Criticism of the humans who provide the muscle is not socially acceptable. I get why this is. So many people have friends or relatives in the military. It would be pretty shitty telling them that their loved ones shouldn’t have joined. Only a monster would tell someone dealing with the loss of a loved one that the dead soldier “knew what he signed up for,” even if it’s kind of true.

It’s easy to blame the leaders of the American military-industrial complex, but soldiers are a huge part of the problem. They are not a force for good in the world. There is no causal relationship between a person joining the military and my or anyone else’s right to free speech. Dead soldiers are not automatically heroes. Maybe some have unequivocally done heroic things outside of their role in US hegemony, but anything in the service of it is not heroic. Our collective deification of the troops is infantile, and made even more pathetic by how the US government treats them when their service is ended.

I’ve had a few friends serve. I hoped very much that they would be safe and not do anything shitty to the war-ravaged inhabitants of the places we conduct unwinnable wars. But I always kept those feelings to myself. At any rate, I’m glad I have this blog to serve as an outlet for expressing something I’m uncomfortable talking about verbally.

As I wrote above, it’d be pretty fucking rude to give my spiel to anyone that’s been negatively affected by a loved one’s service by death or PTSD. Maybe some of you read this and think I’m an asshole for impugning individual soldiers. That’s fine. I would point out, though, that I support soldiers remaining alive by wishing them to not be in the military.

 

 

 

Leave Kellyanne alone

I’m going to give Kellyanne Conway the benefit of the doubt on misspeaking “one word.” Because who could be intellectually dishonest enough to allege a nonexistent massacre and subsequently claim her mistake was no big deal? Who among us hasn’t said “massacre” while intending to say “terrorists?” It’s an easy mistake.

But maybe, due to lamestream media bullying and SJW ridicule, she’s too ashamed to admit she misplaced her massacre by roughly 200 miles and 235 years. Indeed, there was a massacre near present day Bowling Green. The perpetrators, however were not Muslim immigrants or refugees, but American militiamen (almost certainly Christians, all). The victims were pacifist Christianized Native Americans living outside of the boundaries of the nascent United States of America:

In early March 1782, the Lenape were surprised by a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvania militia led by Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson. The militia rounded up the Christian Lenape and accused them of taking part in raids into Pennsylvania. Although the Lenape denied the charges, the militia held a council and voted to kill them.

After the Lenape were told of the militia’s vote, they requested time to prepare for death and spent the night praying and singing hymns. They were held in two buildings, one for men and one for women and children.

The next morning on 8 March, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two “killing houses”, one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre. The bodies were piled in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages.

The militia looted the villages prior to their burning. The plunder, which needed 80 horses to carry included everything which the people had held: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, and clothing.

In 1810, Tecumseh reminded future President William Henry Harrison, “You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”

Maybe Conway will find the courage to clarify her initial comments and educate the masses about their heritage. I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath.