concentrating on david walker and frederick douglass's american defiance. also: why w.e.b. dubois is overrated.
nice thumbnail! my insane look. let me elaborate on a couple of things. walker is a protestant individualist of the same sort as william lloyd garrison or lucretia mott is (or, in a secularized version, thoreau). what he asserts in the first passage i quote is that to claim to be the master of a human being is to usurp the prerogative of god: it is blasphemous among other things. he asserts that human beings have only one master, only one ruler. many of these figures held that the political state is a form of slavery, by the way.
on dubois. his best writing is in the souls of black folk. getting out into his literary material is really a slog through some terribly over-written stuff that doesn't really amount to a clear point of view. his early essay 'on the conservation of the races' takes race differences and race destinies extremely seriously in the 19th-century german mode, even if it emphasizes the positive aspects of blackness. douglass and many others are so much better in that they attack race itself as a self-serving ideology, not a basic human reality that cosmically drives history. dubois is characteristically back-and-forth and characteristically woolly at key junctures, often substituting mediocre poetry for definite assertion.
when garvey accused dubois of running the naacp at the behest of white liberals, he had a point, even if his statements were too emphatic. and there is an element of 'natural aristocracy' or enthusiasm for hierarchy (implicitly correlated with skin tone) in duboisian notions like 'the talented tenth,' which i regard as extremely unfortunate. his later pan-africanism and marxism took him in more radical directions, but didn't basically solve the intellectual problems or improve the writing.
however, his early sociological work, such as 'the philadelphia negro,' is excellent and important.
republican candidates had an argument that trump would never be the nominee: the voters are really smart; i have faith in the american people, etc. so i wonder whether these bozos are teachable? admittedly, the whole thing was the most boilerplatish pandering horseshit. but i pray they have lost the faith they never had. in fact, they believed that the american people are incredibly easily manipulated by emitting little catch-phrases, or engaging in diabolical yet idiotic strategic communications. the clintons are going the same way now: the american people are too good, too wise; i trust the american people. lord knows whether they've ever met any american people. but they sure do recite their little cliches mindlessly, which perhaps shows that they are themselves american people.
He admitted that he lived in Nashville because that was where the work was for him, but he as Texan as you can be, and all in a good way. Work hard, drink some whiskey, sit around with friends and talk shit while passing the IW Dance and a guitar. Be tolerant, kind, and take no shit. He was a frequent visitor to the "Guitar Pulls" at Johnny Cash's home. People would show up, play their stuff, and pick and grin and bullshit. Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, John Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris,Bobby Bare and whomever else was around would show up. Showcase their new stuff casually -- somewhere between "I've been working on this one" and "networking." Get ideas, add and steal licks, sing some harmony and learn from each other how their music could sound.
what this theory of communication which everyone appears to share (that communication is manipulation or propaganda in every case) has led to politically is this: a completely incoherent set of political positions on which people seem to be unanimously agreed in their demographic. so, the whole left since marx has been dedicated to achieving egalitarianism through maximum inequality of power. marxism is the most extreme and insane version of this, but no egalitarian can consistently be a statist, bro. indeed, the whole american left will end up voting straightforwardly for oligarchy, motivated essentially by vilification and dehumanization of their opponents.
on the other hand, watch the thrashing about right now about who is really a 'conservative' etc. now, is right-wing foreign policy militarist or isolationist? trump will run 'to hillary's left' on military interventions, etc. that doesn't mean anything, because 'right' and 'left' don't mean anything. do right-wingers want minimal government, or do they want laws telling people what bathroom to use (next: laws telling them how to poop, etc)? no idea bro, because 'the right' makes no sense.
every day i watch and am just stunned that people are throwing around these terms (left, right, progressive, conservative, etc) when they obviously have no idea of what they mean whatsoever. they don't even notice. that's because they are not trying to say or advocate the truth, but only to form up groups against one another. nothing could be more obvious, all the damn time. that is some sad sad shit.
total pacifism and resulting anarchism from william lloyd garrison:
We cannot acknowledge allegiance to any human government; neither can we oppose any such government by a resort to physical force. We recognize but one King and Lawgiver, one Judge and Ruler of mankind. We are bound by the laws of a kingdom which is not of this world, the subjects of which are forbidden to fight; which has no state lines, no national partitions, no geographical boundaries; in which there is no distinction of rank, or division of caste, or inequality of sex; and which is destined to break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms.
i'll just remark again that no matter who drew the conclusion (tolstoy, for example) or who did not, anti-statism follows obviously from pacifism, because the political state rests on force.
garrison was a big hero of my step-father, richard abell, who was a beloved teacher at sidwell friends in dc and walt whitman in montgomery county, md. of granite new hampshire stock, like nathaniel rogers, he was a quaker on and off, a conscientious objector in world war 2, and a draft counselor during vietnam. during his co service, he contracted polio and used a wheelchair after that. also, like garrison, he was a free speech fundamentalist: a lifetime supporter of the aclu, among other causes.
[richard and my son samuel abell sartwell, rolling around the farm in rappahannock county, va on the 'richmobile'. a handicapped-accessible organic vegetable farm. my mom still lives there.]
he took me to a few quaker meetings. silence is hard when you're 14 and known informally as 'the mouth.' well, 50 minutes of silence is still hard for me as an adult. i've had some influxes of spirit, though, in such circumstances. one thing that's helping in my time of trial is the beautiful quaker document a testament of devotion, by thomas r. kelly.
Who are the white people that we should fear them? They cannot run fast, and are good marks to shoot at. They are only men; our fathers have killed many of them. We are not squaws, and we will stain the earth red with blood.
In short, as a snow-drift is formed where there is a lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there is a lull of truth, an institution springs up. But the truth blows right on over it, nevertheless, and at length blows it down.
I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.
the essay by douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," given as a commencement address at Western Reserve College in 1854 (!) - is one of a number of little-known treasures.
The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have an important and controlling part. This is the moral battlefield to which their country and their God now call them. In the eye of both, the neutral scholar is an ignoble man. Here, a man must be hot, or be accounted cold. The lukewarm and cowardly will be rejected by earnest men on either side of the controversy. The cunning man who avoids it, to gain the favor of both parties, will be regarded with scorn; and the timid man who shrinks from it, for fear of offending either party, will be despised. He that is not for us, is against us.
my next self-publishing project will be an anthology of american anti-authoritarian writings from the 17th through the 19th century. a number of fundamental texts here are far-too-little known and not widely enough available. many of them are quite unimaginably defiant. here is the toc, still subject to alteration:
Trial and Interrogation of Anne Hutchinson (1637)
Roger Williams, "A Plea for Religious Liberty" (1644)
John Woolman, "A Plea for the Poor, or a Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich" (1764)
Anti-Federalist Papers (1787)
Samuel Bryan, Centinel 1
Robert Yates, Brutus 3
Robert Yates, Brutus 6
James Madison, "The Virginia Resolutions" (1798)
Letter to Governor Harrison (1810)
Speech to the Osages (1812)
John Taylor of Caroline, "Authority" (1814)
David Walker, "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World" (Preamble and Article 1, 1830)
Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (selections, 1838)
William Lloyd Garrison, "Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention" (1838)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
"Reply to a Correspondent" (1846)
Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce (1846)
Henry David Thoreau
"Civil Disobedience" (1849)
"Life Without Principle (1863)
Lucretia Mott, "The Laws in Relation to Women" (1853)
Frederick Douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered" (1854)
Angela Heywood, "Human Sex Power - Fleshed Realism"
Responding to the idea that God the Father demands capital punishment, Rogers writes as follows.
What would one of these fathers, here on earth, think of his family of children, who should set up such an institution, out of his door-yard where they go to play, and should string up little Charley or Anna or whoever by the neck, for some childish misdemeanor, done without permission of the majority of them? How would he feel - the depraved old gentleman - coming out, some time, to enjoy the glee of the young ones, to find one of them dangling by the neck, and older brother Sam, or Jim, standing dismally by, as Chaplain? And then Jim or Sam roll up the white of their eyes, and charge him with having ordained what they had been about.
If the family are of a gibbety temper and character, why let them have gibbets and be hanged to them. And if they don't hate one another quite bad enough for that, and do, for shutting up in dungeons for life or for years - let them have dungeons. Or fine or whip or crop ears, or whatever the family are malignant and hateful enough, to do. When they come to love one another, they will leave it off. Cross children will snap at each other and quarrel. Deprave them sufficiently, make them bad enough, and they will strangle one another.
as i've often said, i think that american transcendentalism is ineptly named; i'd prefer an antonym, actually, such as 'immanentalism.' now i think the canon needs expanding, and i think the narrative according to which transcendentalism was superseded by pragmatism is simplistic.
so, if i were assembling a set of transcendentalist essays, i might start with rogers. i would certainly include essays by voltairine de cleyre, perhaps 'the dominant idea' and 'crime and punishment.' and i might fetch up with zora neale hurston: i am straight up asserting that zora is an american transcendentalist in the thoreau mould. a volume focusing exclusively on her essays is long overdue.
in the hands of lit and phil profs, the transcendentalists have sunk into quaint american fossils, groovy proto-hippie nature children, with an embarrassing political individualism that no one can believe anymore, or that must be attenuated or vitiated under interpretation. but a good part of the whole thrust is political from the outset in rogers, emerson, thoreau: a radical anti-authoritarianism. and they have a beautiful individualism that is also not at all about economic self-seeking, but derives from protestant notions like the quaker inner light of god in each person. also, this individualism is a radical egalitarianism, as you see in rogers, in voltairine, in hurston. and it is an individualism that connects with the natural world in much the way many had previously connected to god, and then seeks to place us each as an individuals - not as races, not genders, not parties, not classes, not general wills - into the same shared world.
19th-century whiteness studies, from 'rhose island meeting':
rhode island was proposing a new constitution with a color qualification for voting.
To make it go down with the people, the pitiful creatures inserted a color qualification. They must put in white - the color of the gulls you see winging their uncouth flight up and down the harbor - to shut out three or four hundred colored people, who otherwise might, - when they get money enough, go to the free and equal polls, to choose their masters. The patron of the new Constitution had assumed the name of the "Free Suffrage party."
Their freedom showed itself in making a man's hue the test of his rights. They felt free to enslave a man if he was not white as a diaper. One or two of their demagogues came into the meeting. One was a Dr. Brown, a steam doctor, whose political morality seemed about as high as that of a railroad engine with a Jim Crow car to it; or a church with a "nigger pew." The Doctor gave us an exposè of his white ethics. It seemed he wanted to get suffrage for the white folks, in order, by and by to extend it to the black. [But getting the vote] would not have any tendency to help the colored people out. It would prove a worthless boon in their hands. The white folks would not acknowledge them as equals if they were nominally voters. They never would consent to their being candidates for any thing. They would treat them as "niggers" still.
i'm telling you this is a discovery: someone's going to have to convince me that a more important straight-to-e book has been published.
A great and almost unknown American writer from New Hampshire, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846) was the most radical American political voice of the antebellum period. He is also an undiscovered American Transcendentalist, at his best comparable to Emerson and Thoreau. Both men acknowledged Rogers' influence on them, and Thoreau published one of his first essays - collected here - on Rogers' work, recognizing his excellence as both a political and a nature writer. Anti-slavery drove all his thought, and as an abolitionist writer, only Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips are his rivals. Rogers was an anarchist, a pacifist, a feminist, an environmentalist, a religious heretic, an individualist, an anti-capitalist and an advocate of animal rights.
His writings are collected here for the first time since 1849, along with Thoreau's essay "Herald of Freedom" and other materials about Rogers and American radicalism of the early 19th century.
nathaniel rogers was an amazing radical and an amazing writer, and if you want to see someone in 1840 who speaks up for animal rights, against capital punishment, against slavery, against the state, for environmentalism as that came much later to be understood, for indian rights, and so on, and did so with extreme clarity, creativity and vigor, you've got to check this out. he was a decade emerson's senior, and he is a fundamental american transcendentalist.
my case should unite anarchists and tea partiers. they always should have been united. so perhaps, left anarchists, you think the advocacy of gun rights in country music is disgusting. well, over and over, the gun is wielded in country music and elsewhere in rural rightwingy culture, as a symbol of resistance to state power. maybe you favor black brigades rolling with rocks and molotov cocktail, but the damn impulse is the same, and even the motivation: the way people are being dominated and impoverished. so get over your little demographic fealty and reach across.
as i travel this amazing land, i meet many people just like you -- in fact precisely, uncannily like you. they ask me, 'senator sartwell, what would you do to restore america's greatness?'
but let's not get ahead of ourselves. if elected, i will strive to make america mediocre again, if indeed we have ever risen to mediocrity in the past. you can't get from here to great without passing through mediocre, and of course you can't get to 'great again' at all, more or less. let's work on second-rate; i realize that is utopian in itself, but i am a congenital optimist! some of our least obviously suckass days may well possibly be ahead of us, unlikely as that seems.
from time to time the question arises as to what, if anything, it means to be an 'american philosopher', or even whether i, personally, am an american philosopher. then i guess we'd have to define 'america', haha! rorty is pretty funny in the film, he's all like: forget it, it's uninteresting, whatever. that is the essence of rorty right there, and i say it's just because phil mcreynolds was kind of relentless on that question, and rorty habitually just tried to undercut or shrug off the underpinnings of any question. at another moment, he'd go all passionate about being an american, and so on, even while of course being 'anti-essentialist' about it.
anyway, i could say that first off, i feel extremely american. i could only happen here. i live in an andrew wyeth calendar, except that most of the residents are now mexicans: what's more american than that? i identify with many dimensions of american culture, and i'll tell you what, the blues and country and hip hop could have happened nowhere else, and in general the rest of the world does not understand popular music, which is my most important, say, cultural repository. american slangs, sub-cultures, television, sports, politics, and so on: i am so it, even if i'm repudiating little bits of it. i like some aspects of our mythology, and i'm still showing you clint eastwood movies, bugs bunny cartoons, and making you read self-reliance.
but also, i do feel a deep affinity to many figures in the american tradition, and i do see my work as continuous with theirs in some way or responsive to it. this is not only true of americans, and for example i have been grappling with kierkegaard and chuang tzu for decades. but i really do feel an intense affinity for figures in the american tradition, a kind of immediate recognition. i might mention jonathan edwards, the 1776 revolutionaries, lucretia mott, emerson, thoreau, william lloyd garrison, josiah warren, poe, james, emma goldman, mencken, marcus garvey, malcolm x, abbie hoffman, and w.v.o. quine, to begin with. i associate the american political tradition with individual rights and limitations on state power, notions i endorse. our central political concept, to my way of thinking, is liberty.
in a menckeny way, i sort of love/hate our culture, and though you can try to understand trump as a berlasconi or something, you only get him in america. i sort of love our hustlers, or even our charlatans, and sometimes it gets to be art, like say in zora neale hurston or notorious b.i.g. or glen beck. or shonda rhymes. we make quite a spectacle. i love many parts of our physical country, from the cities of baltimore and philadelphia to the rural deep south, where i've lived and explored. i'm telling you my connection to my place is felt continually; i work on it, fo real.
but that, like many commitments, is a selection from a smorgasbord. there are no positions one has to accept in order to be an american thinker or whatever. in particular, the notion that the pragmatic theory of truth is our central identity or something is eminently rejectable, and i do hold that it is a terrible theory. and i don't know that it's particularly great and amazing to be an american, as opposed to a kenyan or whatever, philosopher. and 'american' is an excruciatingly problematic concept or identity, which we can try to wrestle with if you want.
i am and am not 'proud' to be an american, and in a way i feel a sort of patriotic loyalty to my culture, or my roiling world of sub-cultures, but of course none to my government. the shining city on a hill etc is the worst sort of bullshit; we've been no better than average, and are even now a terrifyingly oppressive force with regard to much of the world and ourselves. we've built on death, pain, exploitation, like many cultures. ok? guess what, for better and worse, in resistance and in collusion and self-interest, all that is in me too.
by the same token, writing let's say as a white man in the middle of a powerful country, in a world-dominant language, lends a kind of effortless yet suspicious cosmopolitanism. it's easy to feel central, maybe especially for those of us who grew up in dc as the american empire grew to fruition and found limits too. we felt ourselves to be at the center, unlike many previous generations of americans who were characteristically anxious about american and hence their own provincialism. anyway, i/we speak - in philosophy and elsewhere - from a kind of privilege that is effortlessly pleasurable and useful but also a problem.
I've been very sick the last couple of weeks. One course of pretty nasty antibiotics and I started to feel better and then wham! Back to the local Stop&Doc where I got the first prescription and the office, which serves a couple of hundred people daily. They couldn't find a substitute to cover while the normal guy took some vacation. We commiserated back and forth, since I needed help; and they -- four people -- were waiting for the word to close shop and 3/4s of a day's pay.
While this was a personal problem, it got me thinking. I've had 2-4 cases of strep throat and associated problems every year since before Crispin was born. Had the tonsils out when I was 20 and the idea that no more sore throats was a total lie. However, there was a lot less misery. Still, when it gets full blown, I'm pretty useless. More so than normal, according to some.
On the other hand, I've never had smallpox, tetanus, swine flu, diphtheria, thyroid, tetanus, rabies, rubella, shingles, malaria, plague, anthrax or any of the other stuff I've been vaccinated for. Made me wonder why this is so...
I sense that like me, Crispin has been taking a vacation from giving a damn about US presidential politics, but occasionally feels pulled back into it. Certainly, in the progression of American culture, presidential politics, choices and elections have been used to make transitions. Kennedy replaced tired, worn out old Eisenhower with vigah! and such -- in reality, drugged to the gills for back pain, suffering from Addisons and various iterations of venereal disease. Ronald Reagan was going to reform everything after the weakness of Jimmy Carter and then should have been impeached for the Iran Contra deal. And so on -- Barrack Obama was supposed to mark out transition to being a post racial nation, and since then we have gotten to continually play out our dark night of the soul in communities all over the country.
Crispin's more populist work, like cheese it, tend toward an ironic approach which was my first reason for reading his stuff. This piece, which comes at least in part from his piece on the Philosophy of Edgar Allan Poe, contains more than a little of it. Basically, one could contend that Crispin examines the idea of human self-improvement as moral and ethical and compassionate human beings.
It's safe to say he approves that outcome, he just doesn't think it's very likely. I suspect most of us will probably agree, at least in part. As I tell the conspiracy freaks who normally read my stuff, if I'm looking for a reason why somebody did something stupid, I opt first for stupidity and then for the seven deadly sins. Dr, King was hopefully correct about the arc of human history being toward justice, but I'd hedge those bets with one's on sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, hatred, anger and pride.
My dad told me that a good manager was right more than 51% of the time. I think he was right -- great managers and leaders probably get it right around 60% of the time, and generally get the big things right. Republicans tend to get facts and theories and bullshit confused and are seldom right but their voters don't care that much. Like heroin, most Republican voters lose in the long run, but it's all about the rush! Quants generally get all the minor shit absolutely spot on, but punt the big things. Go figure.
Crispin is a philosopher and card trickster. He doesn't care about being right until he does, and then it's usually too late. But, Crispin is right about 50% of the time and when he's wrong, it's usually due to some misplaced faith in human beings.
people do look awfully grim about the war between kim jong un and seth rogen, but i just want to point out that it is the greatest story ever, just a complete delight. when 10th graders in 2153 read about american history, seth rogen will be the major figure, the turning point, like lincoln or napoleon. we have lived through the moment when seth rogen went from so-lame-it's-funny comedian to world-bestriding colussus. this will be remembered as the era in which americans followed seth rogen unquestioningly to our doom. the seth rogen era, world war seth, was always where the inevitable process of history was going to end up. now only james franco can save or redeem us.