Cathedral Round-Up #26: Philosophy

In sob stories about just how hard it is to be one of the most privileged people in the world, 21 Harvard and Oxford Students Share Their Experiences of Racism They Face Everyday [sic]:

I, Too, Am Harvard is a powerful photo campaign highlighting the faces and voices of black students at Harvard College. Fed up with the institutional racism they face everyday [sic], the students are speaking speaking out against it by sharing their heartfelt stories in a series of portraits.

“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned,” they say. “This project is our way of speaking back,of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: we are here.”

The students from Oxford University have also begun a similar campaign.

Examples of nefarious racism keeping down Harvard and Oxford students include people asking if they’re listening to rap music on their headphones and jokes abut Somali pirates. Several complaints also center on the fact that whites believe that blacks and Hispanics get an admissions boost due to Affirmative Action, which Blacks find terribly offensive. (Of course, as the NY Times notes, Harvard has been acting affirmatively since 1971:

The university has a long and pioneering history of support for affirmative action, going back at least to when Derek Bok, appointed president of Harvard in 1971, embraced policies that became a national model.

The university has extended that ethos to many low-income students, allowing them to attend free. Harvard has argued in a Supreme Court brief that while it sets no quotas for “blacks, or of musicians, football players, physicists or Californians,” if it wants to achieve true diversity, it must pay some attention to the numbers. The university has also said that abandoning race-conscious admissions would diminish the “excellence” of a Harvard education.

This is why Harvard is now getting sued by Asians, whose excellent SAT scores result in a significant admissions discrimination at top schools.)

Why do students at such elite schools indulge in such petulant whining? For that matter, why do these schools allow inanities like students yelling at faculty members about Halloween costumes (Yale, I’m looking at you)?

They say the Devil’s best trick was convincing people he doesn’t exist; perhaps the Cathedral’s best trick is convincing people that it’s oppressed. If Cathedralites are oppressed, then you can’t complain that they’re oppressing you.

Or perhaps people who get into top schools develop some form of survivor’s remorse? How do you reconcile a belief that “elitism” is bad, that intelligence isn’t genetic, that no one is “inherently” better than anyone else nor deserves to be “privileged” with the reality that you have been hand-selected to be part of a privileged, intellectual elite that enjoys opportunities we commoners can only dream of? Perhaps much of what passes for liberal signaling in college is just overcompensation for the privileges they have but can’t explicitly claim to deserve.

Over at Yale, the Philosophy Department is very concerned that too many white males are signing up for their courses:

But not all departments draw evenly across Yale’s many communities — some will be more demographically homogeneous than others, such as Yale’s Philosophy Department, which has historically been majority white and male.

Philosophy has struggled as a discipline to attract students from diverse backgrounds, and faculty and students within Yale’s Philosophy Department told the News that while the department is not as diverse as it could be in terms of racial and gender makeup or curricular offerings, ongoing efforts to remedy the problem are a cause for optimism.

Yalies seem lacking in basic numeracy: if some departments–say the African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies–attract disproportionately high numbers of blacks and women, then there won’t be enough blacks and women left over to spread out to all of the other departments to get racial parity everywhere. Some departments, by default, will have to have more whites and men.

“[Lack of diversity] has inspired a lot of soul-searching in the discipline in recent years,” said Joanna Demaree-Cotton GRD ’21, co-coordinator of Yale’s chapter of Minorities and Philosophy which works to combat issues faced by minorities in academia. “Lots of departments, including ours at Yale, have started asking tough questions about the cause of this drop-off in the representation of women and racial minorities, and how we might go about ameliorating the problem.”

In case you’re wondering, Demaree-Cotton is a white lady. When the push comes to get some professors to give up their spots in favor of women-of-color philosophers, will Demaree-Cotton get pushed out for being white, or will she be saved because she’s female?

Unfortunately for Yale, they recently lost their only black philosophy professor, Chris Lebron, author of The Making of Black Lives Matter: The History of an Idea and The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time, to Johns Hopkins U.

Yale has a second problem: very few people major in philosophy, period. For example, in 2016, only 20 undergrads received degrees in philosophy or philosophy of mathematics (data is not broken down for each department.) Of these, 13 were men and 7 were female. These are the kind of numbers that let you write hand-wringing articles about how “philosophy is only 35% female!” when we are actually talking about a 6-person gap. The recent “drop-off” in women and racial minorities, therefore, is likely just random chance.

“For example, although over the last four years women have represented less than 25 percent of applicants to our Ph.D. program, they represent about 40 percent of students currently in our program,” Darwall said.

Sounds like Yale is actually giving women preferential treatment, just not enough preferential treatment to make up for the lack of female applicants.

Deputy Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development Kathryn Lofton said that Yale is working hard to “rethink diversity” across the University…

Each academic department and program, not just philosophy, must engage with this topic, Lofton added.

“The protests in the fall of 2015 showed that our students believe we have work yet to do to achieve this ambition,” she said. “The University has responded to their call with a strong strategic vision. But this work takes time to accomplish.”

Kathryn Lofton is also a white woman. Besides lecturing people about the importance of Halloween Costume protests, she is also a professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity and chair of the Religious Studies department. Her faculty page describes her work:

Kathryn Lofton is a is a historian of religion who has written extensively about capitalism, celebrity, sexuality, and the concept of the secular. … Her first book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) used the example of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia productions to evaluate the material strategies of contemporary spirituality. Her forthcoming book, Consuming Religion offers a profile of religion and its relationship to consumption and includes analysis of many subjects, including office cubicles, binge viewing, the family Kardashian, and the Goldman Sachs Group. Her next book-length study will consider the religions of American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.

Apparently writing about Oprah and the Kardashians now qualifies you to be a Yale professor.

Back to the Philosophy Department:

For instance, [Jocelyn] Wang said that many undergraduate introductory philosophy classes are history-based and focused on “dead white men,” which is not necessarily as accessible to students from varied backgrounds.

“I think the way that the undergraduate philosophy curriculum is structured contributes partially to the demographic composition of the major,” Wang said.

In other words, Miss Wang thinks that Yale’s black and Hispanic students are too dumb to read Socrates and Kant.

This is really a bullshit argument, if you will pardon my language. Any student who has been accepted to Yale is smart (and well-educated) enough to “access” Socrates. These are Yalies, not bright but underprivileged kids from the ‘hood. If language is an issue for Yale’s foreign exchange students, all of the philosophy texts can be found in translation (in fact, most of them weren’t written in English to start with.) But if you struggle with English, you might not want to attend a university where English is the primary language to start with.

However, if we interpret “accessible” in Miss Wang’s statement as a euphemism for “interesting,” we may have a reasonable claim: perhaps interest in historical figures really is tribal, with whites more interested in white philosophers and blacks more interested in black philosophers. Your average “Philosophy 101” course is likely to cover the most important philosophers in the Western Tradition, because these courses were originally designed and written by Westerners who wanted to discuss their own philosophical tradition. Now in order to attract non-Westerners, they are being told they need to discard the discussion of their own philosophical tradition in favor of other philosophical traditions.

Now, I don’t see anything wrong with incorporating non-western philosophies if they have something interesting to say. My own Philosophy 101 course covered (IIRC) Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, John Rawls, the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, and Confucianism. I enjoyed this course, and never found myself thinking, “Gee, I just can’t access this Confucius. This course would be a lot more accessible without all of the brown guys in it.”

Look, some people like talking about what a “chair” is and what “is” is, and some people like talking about police brutality against black bodies, and if one group of people wants to get together in the Philosophy department and talk about chairs and the other group wants to go to the African American Studies department, that’s fine. We don’t all have to hang out in the same place and talk about the same stuff. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and acknowledge that the thing you’re interested in isn’t 100% interesting to everyone else on the planet. Some subjects are more interesting to women, some are more interesting to men. Some are more interesting to whites or blacks or Asians, married or single people, young or old, city or country dwellers, etc. We are allowed to be different. If different people have different interests, then the only way to get people with different interests into the philosophy department is by changing the department itself to cater to those different interests–interests that are already being better served by a different department. If you turn Philosophy into Gender + Race Studies, then you’ve just excluded all of the people who were attracted to it in the first place because they wanted to study philosophy.

Speaking of which:

[Wang] added that in her experience, students can create a “culture of intimidation” by making references to philosophers without explaining them, thus setting up a barrier for people who are not familiar with that background.

I know some people can be cliquish, reveling in overly-obtuse language that they use to make themselves sound smart and to exclude others from their exclusive intellectual club. Academic publications are FILLED with such writing, and it’s awful.

But Miss Wang is criticizing what amount to private conversations between other students for being insufficiently transparent to outsiders, which rubs me the wrong way. Every field has some amount of specialized knowledge and vocabulary that experienced members will know better than newcomers. Two bikers talking about their motorcycles wouldn’t make much sense to me. Two engineers talking about an engineering project also wouldn’t make much sense to me. And I had to look up a lot of Jewish vocabulary words like “Gemara” before I could write that post on the Talmud. Balancing between the amount of information someone who is well-versed in a field needs vs the amount a newcomer needs, without actually knowing how much knowledge that newcomer already has nor whether you are coming across as condescending, simplistic, or “mansplaining,” can be very tricky.

This is something I worry about in real life when talking to people I don’t know very well, so I’m sensitive about it.

Still, [Rita Wang–a different student with the same last name] noted several classes that delved into questions of race and gender, such as a class on American philosophy that included the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and another course on G.W.F. Hegel that discussed his interpretation of the Haitian Revolution.

I was curious about Hegel’s interpretation of the Haitian revolution. A quick search of “Hegel Haiti” brings me to Susan Buck-Morss‘s Hegel, Haiti and Universal History. According to The Marx & Philosophy Review of Books:

The premise of Susan Buck-Morss’s Hegel, Haiti and Universal History is the arresting claim that Hegel’s renowned ‘master-slave dialectic’ was directly inspired by the contemporaneous Haitian Revolution. Commencing with a slave uprising on the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1791, the victorious former slaves declared Haiti’s independence from Napoleon’s France in 1804, three years before Hegel published his Phenomenology of Spirit, which contained the earliest published (and still the best known) rendition of the master-slave dialectic. …

However, if Buck-Morss is right to claim that Hegel was alluding to the Haitian Revolution when writing his master-slave dialectic, then Hegel’s seemingly callow optimism was not mere fancy but drew directly on lived historical experience: the achievement of Haitian slaves not only in overthrowing a savage and comprehensive tyranny but also in establishing their own modern state. Buck-Morss only hints at this possibility, however. Her aim, she says, is different: she wants to ensure that the great German philosopher is forever linked to the greatest of Caribbean revolutions (16)….

Bridge made of trash, Haiti

Ah, yes, Haiti, such a great revolution! And such a great country! Say, how have things been in Haiti since the revolution?

Dessalines was proclaimed “Emperor for Life” by his troops.[63] …Once in power, he ordered the massacre of most whites. … In the continuing competition for power, he was assassinated by rivals on 17 October 1806.[66]

The revolution led to a wave of emigration.[70] In 1809, nearly 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue settled en masse in New Orleans.[71] They doubled the city’s population. …

Haitian politics have been contentious: since independence, Haiti has suffered 32 coups.[134]

Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere, has been called “the most dangerous place on Earth” by the United Nations.[138]

Haiti has consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index.[159] It is estimated that President “Baby Doc” Duvalier, his wife Michelle, and their agents stole US $504 million from the country’s treasury between 1971 and 1986.[160]

Haiti’s purchasing power parity GDP fell 8% in 2010 (from US$12.15 billion to US$11.18 billion) and the GDP per capita remained unchanged at PPP US$1,200.[2] … Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries and the poorest in the Americas region, with poverty, corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of health care and lack of education cited as the main sources. …

Haiti’s population (1961–2003) from 4 to 10 million

Meanwhile, Haiti’s population has steadily increased from 4 million (in 1961) to 10 million (in 2003).

Sounds great. Who wouldn’t embrace a revolution that brought such peace, prosperity, and well-being to its people?

Interestingly, Wikipedia notes that Susan Buck-Morss is a member of the Frankfurt School. Wikipedia also notes that the idea that the Frankfurt School is a bunch of Marxists–or “Cultural Marxists” is just a “conspiracy theory.” Clearly there is nothing Marxist about the Frankfurt School.

But back to Yale:

This year, new faculty members who have joined the department will teach courses that diversify the curriculum, Gendler said. Philosophy professor Robin Dembroff, who is genderqueer, is teaching a social ontology course next semester that focuses on questions surrounding social construction and the nature of social categories.

Here’s an excerpt from Dembroff’s PhD dissertation summary (Princeton):

Many important social debates concern who should count as belonging to various social categories. Who should count as black? …as a woman? …as married? …it is widely assumed that these questions turn on metaphysical analyses of what makes someone black, a woman, and so on. That is, it is assumed that we should count someone as (e.g.) a woman just in case they satisfy sufficient conditions for having the property `woman’. My dissertation argues that this assumption is wrong: whether someone should count as a woman turns not on whether they satisfy the correct metaphysical analysis of what it is to be a woman, but on ethical considerations about how we ought to treat each other. …

While researching this post, I also came across what I think is Dembroff’s old Myspace account. While looking back at our teenage selves can be ridiculous and often embarassing, the teenage Dembroff seemed a much realer, more relateable human than the current one who is trying so hard to look Yale. Perhaps it isn’t the same Dembroff, of course. But we were all teenagers, once, trying to find our place in this world. I think I would have liked teenage Dembroff.

Dembroff’s dissertation, boiled down to its point, is that all of these debates over things like “trans identity” don’t really matter because we ought to just try to be kind to each other. While I think statements like, “What matters for determining ethical gender ascriptions are normative questions about how we ought to perceive and treat others, and not facts about who is a man or a woman. This claim has an important implication: It may be unethical to make true gender ascriptions, and ethical to make false ascriptions,” are quite wrong, because reality is an important thing and basing an ethics around lying has all sorts of bad implications, I find this at least a more honest and straightforward idea than all of the “gender is a social construct” nonsense.

Still, I question the wisdom of having someone who thinks that social ontology, social construction, and the nature of social categories don’t really matter teach a course on the subject. But maybe Dembroff brings a refreshing new perspective to the subject. Who knows.

Let’s finish our article:

“One thing that I have found really encouraging at Yale is that I have been made to feel as if the graduate student community as a whole — including white men — truly cares about working together to create positive change,” Demaree-Cotton said. “This really makes a big difference. The importance of all students and faculty — not just minorities — taking an active interest in these issues should not be underestimated.”

So much social signaling. So much trying to impress the legions of other privileged, to scrabble to the top, to hang on to some piece of the pie while deflecting blame onto someone else.

I wish people could leave all of this signaling behind.

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The Fault in our Tongues: Tablet, Spencer, and Political Deafness

Tablet Magazine recently ran an article about Richard Spencer’s slightly less recent interview on Israel’s Channel 2: Richard Spencer Says He Just Wants ‘White Zionism.’ Here’s Why That’s Malicious Nonsense.

Spencer I regard as somewhat like the Boogeyman: journalists like to pull him out when they want to scare someone. He doesn’t represent the Alt-Right inasmuch as the Alt-Right is mostly a vague collection of people/groups on the internet who don’t fall into mainstream conservatism, rather than a coherent entity with a single leader.

I am not personally well-acquainted with Spencer’s work–if I’ve read any of it, I’ve forgotten it–but he is famous enough that I am familiar with the gist of it.

According to Tablet:

…alt-right luminary Richard Spencer declared himself to be a “white Zionist.” Just as Jews want a state of their own, the Charlottesville far-right organizer argued, he merely seeks a state for white people.

“…you could say that I am a white Zionist in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”

So far, so good: this sounds a lot like things Spencer has said elsewhere, eg, Wikipedia says:

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spencer has advocated for a white homeland for a “dispossessed white race” and called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture.[19][20][58] To this end he has supported what he has called “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent”, an “ideal” that he has regarded as a “reconstitution of the Roman Empire.”[59][60]

The white nationalist wants a white nation. Sounds tautological. But this is where Tablet gets interesting:

It’s an analogy with superficial plausibility. It’s also a malicious lie, and a deliberate one. …

Essentially, the alt-right maliciously appropriates the deeply held values of liberals and minorities in order to attack them. This is not because the alt-right shares those values, but because it wants to troll those who do.

This is quite the claim! It’s one thing to claim that someone has appropriated a cultural item, such as a white person performing a style of music invented by black people or an Asian person wearing a Mexican hat. “Cultural appropriation” is a logical mess in practice, but at least it rests on the somewhat coherent idea of “this is my culture, we do and make these things, therefore these things belong to us.”

What does it mean to appropriate someone’s values? “You can’t be an environmentalist, only people whose ancestors were environmentalists are allowed to care about the environment?” “I’m sorry, but since Freedom of Speech was not originally enshrined in your country’s laws, you’re not allowed to want it.”

But if we read the paragraph again, it becomes clear that Tablet doesn’t really want to accuse Spencer of appropriating liberal values, (which it thinks he does not hold) but instead the logical arguments used to support liberal positions.

And for what purpose? Here Tablet’s answer is simple: to troll them:

This disingenuous dynamic of using liberal values to troll liberals has been documented elsewhere by journalists who have followed the alt-right. … As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his 1946 treatise Anti-Semite and Jew:

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. … they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

Spencer’s doing it for the shits and giggles, folks.

To be fair, the alt-right is full of trolls and jokers, and many of them are anti-Semitic. Spencer himself is probably anti-Semitic, or at least anti-people-who-write-for-Tablet, but anti-Semitic trolling of the frogs-and-gas-chamber-memes-variety doesn’t appear to be his primary concern. He seems to be primarily concerned with promoting white nationalism. (It’s almost as though “alt-right” were a vague, poorly-defined term that includes a lot of people who might not even believe in the same stuff besides a general dislike of both the mainstream left and right.)

If Spencer is just trolling you, then what is his real intention? In this case, we have nothing–nothing but sound and fury, blustering for no reason. What’s the point? Does Spencer have secret reasons for promoting white nationalism other than white nationalism?

In my many years of trying to figure out why people believe and advocate for the politics they do, I have observed two things:

  1. People often ignore each others’ arguments, respond to arguments their opponents didn’t make, assume their opponents are lying, or lie themselves about their opponents’ arguments
  2. People I disagree with make more sense if I assume they are generally trying to be truthful

For example, in a debate about abortion, one side might argue, “We think women should have the right to control their own bodies,” and the other side might argue, “murdering babies is immoral,” and then side A responds, “You hate women and want to force them to be breeding cows,” and side B shoots back, “You hate babies and want to murder them.”

But it actually makes more sense to assume the anti-abortion side is opposed to baby-murder than that they’re interested in using women like cattle, and it makes more sense to assume the pro-abortion side is more interested in controlling whether or not they are pregnant than in maliciously murdering people.

Interestingly, conservatives tend to understand liberals’ motivations and reasons for their political beliefs better than liberals understand conservatives’. As Haidt reports in The Righteous Mind, (quoted on The Independent Whig):

In a study I did with Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, we tested how well liberals and conservatives could understand each other. We asked more than two thousand American visitors to fill out the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out normally, answering as themselves. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as they think a “typical liberal” would respond. One-third of the time they were asked to fill it out as a “typical conservative” would respond. This design allowed us to examine the stereotypes that each side held about the other. More important, it allowed us to assess how accurate they were by comparing people’s expectations about “typical” partisans to the actual responses from partisans on the left and the right.)’ …

The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially those who described themselves as “very liberal.” The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives. When faced with questions such as “One of the worst things a person could do is hurt a defenseless animal” or ”Justice is the most important requirement for a society,” liberals assumed that conservatives would disagree. If you have a moral matrix built primarily on intuitions about care and fairness (as equality), and you listen to the Reagan [i.e., conservative] narrative, what else could you think? Reagan seems completely unconcerned about the welfare of drug addicts, poor people, and gay people. He’s more interested in fighting wars and telling people how to run their sex lives.

I find this holds among people I know in real life: the conservatives tend to understand what liberals believe, while the liberals tend to despair that they live in a country full of evil psychopaths who voted for Trump.

There has been a lot of debate (and public marching) lately about Free Speech, especially whether people like Richard Spencer should have free speech. It seems that some people see even their political opponents as basically honest and well-meaning, their political opinions therefore something a good person might believe if they had different life experiences or were just working with different information.

By contrast, some people see other people as fundamentally dishonest and malicious, their “opinions” as just justifications or deflective cover for being a bad person. (Would you debate the ethics of murder with a serial killer?)

If you fall into the first camp, then the principle of Free Speech makes sense, because knowledge and experiences can be conveyed. But if you fall into the second camp, then there are positions that you think are not honestly argued nor susceptible to logic or debate–in which case, there’s no point to extending “free speech” to such ideas.

For example, Donna Zuckerberg, (yes, sister of Mark Zuckerberg,) recently announced some changes to her Classics Magazine Eidolon’s mission statement (h/t Steve Sailer):

Will this shift lead to a less diverse Eidolon? Our writers always have been, and will continue to be, a diverse group. Our writer pool has excellent diversity of race, age, gender, professional status, and sexuality. … we’ve been accused of not being “ideologically diverse.” This charge is a common one, but I think it is misguided, in addition to being morally bankrupt. Making ideological diversity a primary objective is fundamentally incompatible with fighting against racism, sexism, and other forms of structural oppression, and we choose to prioritize the latter.

In other words: liberals don’t think conservatives deserve free speech because they assume conservatives are basically lying to cover up their real agenda of hurting various minorities.

But why are liberals more susceptible to misunderstanding their opponents than liberals? Let’s return to Tablet, which makes two interesting arguments. First:

Thus, [the alt-right] wrenches causes like affirmative action, black pride, and Zionism from their historical and moral context—as defenses of minorities against long-standing majority oppression—and inverts them to serve white supremacist aims against minorities.

Well, I don’t think Spencer mentioned affirmative action in this article, but the rest is sensible.

In general, American conservatives tend to believe that moral principles should be applied universally–to quote Kant’s categorical imperative:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.[1]

Tablet is in effect saying that nationalism is not meant to be a universal political value, but particular to specific groups in specific contexts. The universalizable principle is not nationalism, but, “Nationalism for minority groups in order to protect them from majority groups.”

By this logic, American whites shouldn’t be nationalist vis American non-whites, but South African whites would be perfectly justified in nationalism against South Africa’s black majority. This rule does not tell us, however, whether a group that expects to become a minority in the future is justified in pre-emptively trying to prevent this or look out for their future interests.

When does the right to nationalism kick in?

(Incidentally, US infants are already majority non-white, and the entire US will be majority non-white around 2050. NPR also estimates that about 20% of the 2060 US population will be foreigners. By contrast, the nation was 84% white back in 1965, before passage of LBJ’s immigration act.)

“Nationalism for everyone” is at least a clear principle that doesn’t get hung up on such nuances as “Are we a minority yet?” or “Are we sufficiently oppressed?” Unfortunately, it leads to other questions, like “Should Basques have their own country?” or “What about Northern Ireland?”

But to return to Spencer and Tablet, it appears that Spencer is working under the assumption that “nationalism is good” is a universal principle applicable to all peoples, while Tablet is working on the assumption that “nationalism is a defense for minority populations against oppression.”

Tablet unnecessarily muddles the waters by adding:

In this manner, the return of Jews to their indigenous homeland is recast by white nationalists, who are not indigenous to America, to justify kicking Jews and other minorities out of the country.

Whoa whoa whoa. “Indigeneity” is a whole different argument. If anyone gets to be called “indigenous” in Israel, it’s the Palestinians. Genetically speaking, claiming indigeneity based on having lived somewhere 2,000 years ago is nonsense–during the 1,900 years of diaspora, pretty much all Jewish groups intermarried with their neighbors and are now about 50% “non Jew” by DNA (most of that on their mothers’ side, as men are nigh universally more likely than women to travel long distances and then take local wives.) Ashkenazim–the majority of Jews–are about 50% Italian, having taken wives from among the Romans after their expulsion from Judea following the destruction of the Second Temple.

For that matter, I would like to point out that the majority of Jews are genetically “white” and that Jewish culture has been part of European culture for almost 2,000 years. (I don’t know how to politely express just how dumb I think two different groups of whites arguing about “white nationalism” is.) Jews have been living in parts of Germany for almost as long as the ethnic Germans, having been officially invited in during the Ostsiedlung. If Jews are indigenous to anywhere, they have a much better argument for Germany and Poland than Israel.

Luckily for me, I think “indigeneity” is a stupid argument and that countries should exist because there exists some entity with the military power to secure the area. By my logic, Israel gets to exist because it does exist: Israel is the only entity with the military strength to control the area, and denying this would just destabilize the area and lead to more deaths.

Likewise, Americans (whites included) have a right to their country because they are already here and controlling it.

Tablet’s justification for why it thinks Spencer (and the alt-right generally) is lying about being interested in white nationalism, or perhaps that white nationalism is comparable to Zionism, is that alt-righters tend not to like Israel or Jews:

That the alt-right does not genuinely support Israel or Zionism—that “they delight in acting in bad faith” on the topic—is readily apparent from how its members talk about Israel when they are not engaged in trolling.

(Here the article quotes several people from Twitter saying negative things about Zionism or Israel, none of whom, I note, are Spencer.)

But I don’t think Spencer (or any other alt-right spokesman) ever claimed to care about Israel. Just because someone believes in the generalized concept of “nationalism” does not mean they care personally about the national ambitions of all peoples. In fact, I wager a Serbian nationalist and a Kosovar nationalist take pretty dim views of each other. Kurdish nationalists have difficulties with Iraqi nationalists; Northern Irish Catholic nationalists don’t get along with Northern Irish Protestant nationalists. An American nationalist may not care one way or another about nationalist ambitions in Guatemala or Indonesia. And white nationalists are under no obligation to care about Jewish nationalism, nor Jews to care about white nationalism.

Here, I think, is the crux of the matter: the point of Zionism is to benefit Jews; the point of white nationalism is to benefit whites. If white nationalism results in Jews getting hurt, then that’s a pretty big practical difference (from the Jewish POV) between the two ideologies. And this, of course, is why Tablet would prefer that you not use Zionism as a justification for an ideology that is–at the very least–filled with people who are anti-Zionist.

“Nationalism for everyone” is a clear principle, but “nationalism for me but not for you,” benefits me much more. This is true for everyone. The only reason whites probably don’t generally think this way is that we’ve been the majority for so long.

But what’s best for the whole of society? It’s easy to say, “Hey, let’s do what’s best for the whole of society” when your group already is most of society. What about minority groups in that same society? Should they–as in the Prisoner’s Dilemma–cooperate with others for the greater good? Or should they look out preferentially for their own good? And what happens in a multi-ethnic society where no group has a clear majority? Can you convince people to cooperate for the greater good, or does the inevitable presence of some people who prefer to cooperate only with co-ethnics and defect on strangers inevitably drive everyone apart?

Long term, how does a multi-ethnic democracy prevent itself from breaking down into everyone voting for their own tribal self-interest?

 

To be honest, I’m not feeling very optimistic.

Sam Worcester, Cherokee Missionary: Relative or Physiognomy?

Samuel Worcester, 1798-1859

While researching the Trail of Tears and removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeast to Oklahoma, I was brought up short by this photo of Samuel Worcester, of Worcester v. Georgia fame. Sam, born in 1798, was a 7th generation minister and missionary to the Cherokee Indians. When they moved to Oklahoma, he went with them.

And he looks just like my little brother.

My brother who wanted to move to Oklahoma and train to be a missionary. (There’s a relevant school in OK, but it’s expensive.)

If this weren’t a grainy photo from the 1800s, this Sam Worcester could be my long-lost sibling.

I have kin in Oklahoma, though I’m not sure how closely related they are.

But 1798 was a LONG time ago. Depending on exactly when you were born and how quickly your ancestors had their children, you had somewhere around 256 to 512 very-great-grandparents in the late 1700s. A mere 1/256th resemblance is not going to show up like this without constant inter-marriage with other people who also look like your relatives. Of course, Sam and his descendents were in the time and place to do that.

I occasionally see old-stock Americans in the news who are (based on last names) likely 5th or 6th cousins of some branch of the family (including the ones I am related to by law rather than blood) and the resemblances can be uncanny.

(Speaking of family, my brother isn’t the only minister or wanna-be minister in my immediate biological [not adopted] family.)

In Sam Worcester’s case, could the coincidence be physiognomy? Is this just what missionaries look like? Is it time to start believing in reincarnation? Or have I stumbled upon a long-lost relative?

What about you? Have you ever encountered a grainy old photograph that looks just like a loved one?

A little more about Sam:

Worcester was born in Peacham, Vermont on January 19, 1798, to the Rev. Leonard Worcester, a minister. He was the seventh generation of pastors in his family, dating back to ancestors who lived in England. … The young Worcester attended common schools and studied printing with his father.[2] In 1819, he graduated with honors from the University of Vermont.[1]

Samuel Worcester became a Congregational minister and decided to become a missionary. After graduating from Andover Theological Seminary in 1823, he expected to be sent to India, Palestine or the Sandwich Islands. Instead, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent him to the American Southeast to minister to American Indians.[3]

Worcester married Ann Orr of Bedford, New Hampshire, whom he had met at Andover.[1][2] They moved to Brainerd Mission, where he was assigned as a missionary to the Cherokees in August 1825. The goals ABCFM set for them were, “…make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits and Christian in their religion.” … Worcester worked with Elias Boudinot to establish the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, the first among Native American nations.[3]

Ultimately Samuel and Ann had seven children: Ann Eliza, Sarah, Jerusha, Hannah, Leonard, John Orr and Mary Eleanor.[2] Ann Eliza grew up to become a missionary and with her husband, William Schenck Robertson, founded Nuyaka Mission in the Indian Territory.[4]

The westward push of European-American settlers from coastal areas continued to encroach on the Cherokee … With the help of Worcester and his sponsor, the American Board, they made a plan to fight the encroachment by using the courts. They wanted to take a case to the US Supreme Court to define the relationship between the federal and state governments, and establish the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation. No other civil authority would support Cherokee sovereignty to their land and self-government in their territory. Hiring William Wirt, a former U.S. Attorney General, the Cherokee tried to argue their position before the US Supreme Court in Georgia v. Tassel (the court granted a writ of error for a Cherokee convicted in a Georgia court for a murder occurring in Cherokee territory, though the state refused to accept the writ) and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) (the court dismissed this on technical grounds for lack of jurisdiction).[7] In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Marshall described the Cherokee Nation as a “domestic dependent nation” with no rights binding on a state.[1]

Worcester and eleven other missionaries had met at New Echota and published a resolution in protest of an 1830 Georgia law prohibiting all white men from living on Native American land without a state license.[1] While the state law was an effort to restrict white settlement on Cherokee territory, Worcester reasoned that obeying the law would, in effect, be surrendering the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation to manage their own territory. Once the law had taken effect, Governor George Rockingham Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest Worcester and the others who signed the document and refused to get a license.[7]

After two series of trials, all eleven men were convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor… Worcester and Elizur Butler declined their pardons, so the Cherokee could take the case to the Supreme Court. … In its late 1832 decision, the Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was independent and only the federal government had the authority to deal with Indian nations. It vacated the convictions of Worcester and Butler. …

[However] He realized that the larger battle had been lost, because the state and settlers refused to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court. Within three years, the US used its military to force the Cherokee Nation out of the Southeast and on the “Trail of Tears” to lands west of the Mississippi River. …

After being released, Worcester and his wife determined to move their family to Indian Territory to prepare for the coming of the Cherokee under removal. …

His work included setting up the first printing press in that part of the country, translating the Bible and several hymns into Cherokee, and running the mission. In 1839, his wife Ann died; she had been serving as assistant missionary. He remained in Park Hill, where he remarried Erminia Nash in 1842.[1][2]

Worcester worked tirelessly to help resolve the differences between the Georgia Cherokee and the “Old Settlers”, some of whom had relocated there in the late 1820s. On April 20, 1859, he died in Park Hill, Indian Territory.

Aside from being imprisoned, Worcester lost his house when the state of Georgia just up and gave it to someone else in the 1832 Land Lottery and most of his property when a steamer sank on the way to Oklahoma.

I’ve long wondered how (if) the Calvinism of the North ended up in the South. Perhaps Vermont missionaries were part of the process.

Anthropology Friday: American Outlaws, Bandits, and Stand Watie

Welcome back to anthropology-ish Friday. Today we’re reading Outlaws on Horseback: The Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers who Terrorized the Middle West for Half a Century by Harry Sinclair Drago. From the Amazon blurb:

Outlaws on Horseback concentrates on the long, unbroken chain of crime that began in the late 1850s with the Missouri-Kansas border warfare and ended in Arkansas in 1921 with the killing of Henry Starr, the last of the authentic desperadoes. Harry Sinclair Drago shows links among the men and women who terrorized the Midwest while he squelches the most outlandish tales about them.

The guerrilla warfare led by the evil William Quantrill was training for Frank and Jesse James and Cole and Jim Younger. Drago puts their bloody careers in perspective and tracks down the truth about Belle Starr the Bandit Queen, Cherokee Bill, Rose of the Cimarron, and the gangs, including the Daltons and Doolins, that infested the Oklahoma hills. The action moves from the sacking of Lawrence to the raid on Northfield to the shootout at Coffeyville.

The introduction and first chapter have so far been really good, so let’s jump right in (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“I have always treasured my chance meeting with Marshal Nix. It quickened my interest in that controversial chapter of American history dealing with the horseback outlaws of Indian and Oklahoma territories and the little army of U.S. marshals and deputy marshals who hunted them down and finally eliminated them in the most prolonged and sanguinary game of cops and robbers this country or any other ever had known. Roughly speaking, it began soon after the forced removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from their homeland in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to reservations in the uninhabited wilderness to the west of the state of Arkansas, comprising the eastern third of present-day Oklahoma.”

Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

EvX: The “Five Civilized Tribes” are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. According to Wikipedia:

These are the first five tribes that Anglo-European settlers generally considered to be “civilized” according to their own worldview, because these five tribes adopted attributes of the colonists’ culture,[2] for example, Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and plantation slavery practices. The Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans.

The Cherokee, thanks to the brilliant Sequoyah, had their own syllabary (similar to alphabet) and thus their own Cherokee-language printing industry.

The Seminoles of Florida are notable for never having surrendered to the US government, which could not effectively track and fight them in the Everglades Swamp.

But back to Drago:

It was a land without law, other than the tribal law and courts of the Five Tribes. The only police were Indian police. There were a number of military posts between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Red River, to the south and west, of which Fort Gibson, some sixty miles up the Arkansas River, at the confluence of the Grand and Verdigris, was the only one of real consequence. The military had no authority to interfere in criminal and civil cases arising among the Indians. In fact, they were expressly forbidden to do so, and this proscription covered mixed bloods of all degree.

“What had become Indian Territory had been known to the criminal element of a dozen Southern and Midwestern states for years. Though it offered a safe refuge for wanted men, few appear to have taken advantage of it. But now, with thousands of “civilized” Indians with their government allotments to prey on, they came from far and near, got themselves adopted into the tribes by marriage and not only proceeded to debauch their benefactors with the wildcat whiskey they brewed in their illicit stills, but plundered and killed with a merciless abandon equaled elsewhere only by the pirates of the lower Mississippi and and the white savages of the Natchez Trace. It was, of course, from those very depth of criminal viciousness that a substantial number of the lawless characters infesting the Territory had come.”

Part of the Natchez Trace

EvX: The Natchez Trace:

is a historic forest trail within the United States which extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. The trail was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders, and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. …

Largely following a geologic ridge line, prehistoric animals followed the dry ground of the Trace to distant grazing lands, the salt licks of today’s central Tennessee, and to the Mississippi River. … In the case of the Trace, bison traveled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area.[2] … Numerous prehistoric indigenous settlements in Mississippi were established along the Natchez Trace. Among them were the 2000-year-old Pharr Mounds of the Middle Woodland period, located near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi. …

The U.S. signed treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to maintain peace, as European Americans entered the area in greater numbers. In 1801 the United States Army began the trail blazing along the Trace, performing major work to prepare it as a thoroughfare. The work was first done by soldiers reassigned from Tennessee and later by civilian contractors. To emphasize American sovereignty in the area, he called it the “Columbian Highway.” The people who used it, however, dubbed the road “The Devil’s Backbone” due to its remoteness, rough conditions, and the often encountered highwaymen found along the new road.[1]

By 1809, the trail was fully navigable by wagon, with the northward journey taking two to three weeks. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route was the development of inns and trading posts, referred to at the time as “stands.” …

The Trace was the only reliable land link between the eastern states and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen, traders, and peddlers among them.[1]

As with much of the unsettled frontier, banditry regularly occurred along the Trace. Much of it centered around the river landing Natchez Under-The-Hill, (as compared with the rest of the town) atop the river bluff. Under-the-Hill, where barges and keelboats put in with goods from northern ports, was a hotbed of gamblers, prostitutes, and drunkards. Many of the rowdies, referred to as “Kaintucks,” were rough Kentucky frontiersmen who operated flatboats down the river.[1]

Other dangers lurked on the Trace in the areas outside city boundaries. Highwaymen (such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason) terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based organized crime in the United States.[5][6]

Back to Drago:

“The seeds of lawlessness had been planted, and it remained only for the passing years to bring them to flower. The half-breed sons of the white renegades grew to manhood with contempt for tribal laws, which among the Choctaws and Cherokees were strict and severe in their punishments. The invariable aftermath to a quarrel was murder. Usually the killings went unexplained, or, in the Cherokee Nation, were charged to the implacable feud between the No Treaty Party and the Treaty Party that took the lives of so many. …

“The internecine strife that divided the Cherokees was waged up to and through the yeas of the Civil War, and it was responsible for the defeat of the adherents of the Confederacy among the Five Tribes. It also helped to provide the climate for the day of the horseback outlaws.

“The strife that divided the Cherokee Nation went back to the treaty signed with the federal government that resulted in their removal from their ancestral homeland. Principal Chief John Ross, titular head of the tribe for almost forty years, had refused to sign it, and he and his faction held that those chiefs who had–Stand Watie; Elias Boudinot, his brother; and Major John Ridge–were traitors. Boudinot, Major Ridge and his son, John, were assassinated following the removal. Only death could heal that breach.”

Chief John Ross of the Cherokee, born 1790, photographed near his death in 1866

EvX: For my non-American readers, Drago is referring to the infamous removal of the Cherokee (and other “civilized tribes”) under President Andrew Jackson, memorialized as the “Trail of Tears.” The forced march from their ancestral lands in the southeast US to what is now Oklahoma (formerly, “Indian Territory”) resulted in 13,000-16,500 deaths. According to Wikipedia:

The Cherokee Trail of Tears resulted from the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which exchanged Indian land in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River, but which was never accepted by the elected tribal leadership or a majority of the Cherokee people.

Interestingly, Chief John Ross was (according to Wikipedia) only 1/8th Cherokee, the rest of his family being of Scottish ancestry:

As a result, young John… grew up bilingual and bicultural, an experience that served him well when his parents decided to send him to schools that served other mixed race Cherokee. … During the War of 1812, he served as adjutant of a Cherokee regiment under the command of Andrew Jackson. After the Red Stick War ended, Ross demonstrated his business acumen by starting a tobacco farm in Tennessee. In 1816, he built a warehouse and trading post on the Tennessee River north of the mouth of Chattanooga Creek, and started a ferry service that carried passengers from the south side of the river (Cherokee Nation) to the north side (USA). …

Ross first went to Washington, D.C. in 1816 as part of a Cherokee delegation to negotiate issues of national boundaries, land ownership and white encroachment. As the only delegate fluent in English, Ross became the principal negotiator, despite his relative youth. When he returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1817, he was elected to the National Council. …

The majority of the council were men like Ross, who were wealthy, educated, English-speaking and of mixed blood. Even the traditionalist full-blood Cherokee perceived that he had the skills necessary to contest the whites’ demands that the Cherokee cede their land and move beyond the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile:

When Georgia moved to extend state laws over Cherokee lands in 1830, the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), the Marshall court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was not a sovereign and independent nation, and therefore refused to hear the case. However, in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the Court ruled that Georgia could not impose laws in Cherokee territory, since only the national government — not state governments — had authority in Indian affairs.

I mention Cherokee Nation v. Georgia because it really is a testament to the Cherokees’ level of literacy and sophistication that they knew how to use the American legal system well enough to bring a case before the Supreme Court. But Jackson had enough problems on his hands (the nullification crisis in South Carolina) and decided he didn’t want to simultaneously face down the Georgia militia, so removal proceeded.

The Cherokee themselves were split on what to do. Some Cherokee (the “Treaty Party,” including Stand Watie,) thought they should just cut their losses, sign the treaty, take the $200,000 and leave. Other Cherokee, (the “No Treaty Party,” lead by John Ross,) wanted to stand their ground and use the legal system to defend their rights.

Back to Drago:

Stand Watie, interestingly more Cherokee by DNA% than John Ross

“It followed that when the conflict between North and South began, those two old enemies took sides, John Ross declaring for the Union, and Stand Watie taking the field for the Confederacy. The latter, a redoubtable man and something of a military genius, as made a brigadier general before the struggle was over, and when he surrendered at Fort Towson, in June 1865, he was the lat of the Confederate commanders to lay down his arms. …

“The absurd statement has been made that there were five thousand outlaws running wild in the two territories. There may have been as many as five thousand criminals unapprehended in the country between the Kansas line and the Red River, at one time or another. I believe there were. That would include petty thieves, safe-crackers, murderers, a few rapists and the several thousand who were engaged in the manufacture and sale of whiskey to the Indians, plus the fluctuating and ever-changing number of “wanted” men who regarded that lawless country as only a temporary refuge. Of the genuine horseback outlaws, who did their marauding in gangs, robbing banks and express offices and holding up trains, the acknowledged elite of their lawless world, the like of whom America had never seen before and was never to see again, I can account for fewer than two hundred.

“The argument has been advanced in their favor that they were cowboys… This is sheer nonsense. … Frank and Jesse James and the members of their gang had never punched cattle for a living. That is equally true of Cole Younger and his brothers…

“It has been said many times that it was the lure of easy money, the chance to make a big stake in a hurry, that took so many men into outlawry. Unquestionably the prospect of the rich pickings to be gleaned was of the first importance with them. But only in the beginning. After a few successful forays, the thrill and excitement of sweeping into a town and cowing it with their guns became almost as important to them as money. No one ever put it better than handsome Henry Starr, the most gentlemanly and to me the most intelligent of all horseback outlaws, when he said, after thirty years of robbing banks and being in and out of prison: “Of course I’m interested in the money and the chance that I’ll make a big haul that will make me rich, but I must admit that there’s the lure of the life in the open, the rides at night, the spice of danger, the mastery over men, the pride of being able to hold a mob at bay–it tingles in my veins. I love it. It is a wild adventure. I feel as I imagine the old buccaneers felt when they roved the seas with the black flag at the masthead.

EvX: According to Old West Legends: Henry Starr–The Cherokee Bad Boy:

During his 32 years in crime Henry Starr robbed more banks than both the James-Younger Gang and the Doolin-Dalton Gang put together. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. The Cherokee Badman netted over $60,000 from more than 21 bank robberies.

Henry Starr was born near Fort Gibson in Indian Territory on December 2, 1873 to George “Hop” Starr, a half-breed Cherokee, and Mary Scot Starr, a woman of Irish decent and one-quarter Cherokee. Mary came from an educated and respectable family, but the Starr side of the family was rife with outlaws. Henry’s grandfather was Tom Starr, an outlaw in his own right. Henry would later say that his grandfather “was known far and wide as the Devil’s own. In all matters where law and order was on one side, Tom Starr was on the other.” …

Back to Drago:

“[Starr’s account] is important only because it partially explains why the confirmed outlaw stuck to his trade until his career ended in a blast of gunfire or the hangman’s noose.

“… none of their predecessors in the game they were playing had succeeded in piling up a fortune and getting away to Mexico or South America to enjoy it. (A few got away, but they always returned, and that was their undoing.) Knowing what the score was, why did they persist in their banditry until they arrived at the inevitable end?

“For several reasons. Not only did they believe they were smart enough to avoid the mistakes that had been the downfall of others, but they held their lives cheaply, which is not difficult to understand. Many of the hailed from Missouri, the cradle of outlawry. Either as children or as grown men, they were products of the bitter, cruel years of border warfare between the proslavery and antislavery factions of Kansas and Missouri, followed by the even bloodier years of guerrilla warfare between Union and Confederate forces… Lee’s surrender at Appomattox did not end the internecine strife in war-torn Kansas and Missouri. It went on for years, and a decade and more passed before it burned itself out.”

EvX: Here we skip forward to matters dealing incidentally with Quantrill, an outlaw. We’ll talk more about Quantrill next Friday:

“[Quantrill] led his men across the line into Indian Territory. This was more or less just a pleasant excursion, its only purpose being to raid the villages of the Upper Cherokees (the [John] Ross faction) and help themselves to the best horseflesh they could find. Preferably that meant tough, wiry animals of pure mesteno strain, and next best, crossbred mustangs which could go and go and go, and which, due to the incessant raiding among the tribes, had changed owners many times since originally being stolen out of Texas. A generation of Cherokees, born in the Territory, had become as adept at stealing horses a the so-called Wild Indians of the Plains. They tried to secrete their extensive herd, but the white invader from Missouri found the and, in the process of taking what they wanted, left a trail of dead Indians in their wake…

“Quantrill and his men had little to fear from Union reprisals. The War Department [this was during the Civil War] had withdrawn its troops from the posts in Texas and Indian Territory soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the announced reason being that it wold be impossible to supply them. It was a mistake; among the Five Civilized Tribes, the faction loyal to the Union felt they had been abandoned. Stand Watie and his Rebel army moved into Fort Gibson and wrought havoc up and down the Texas Road, the main north-south route through the Nations, parts of which were variously known as the Osage Trace, the Shawnee Trail and the Sedalia Trail, until Secretary of War Stanton reversed himself and gathered a force of several regiments of Kansas volunteers and a Missouri battery, accompanied by several hundred Osage tribesmen… and ordered them to retake Fort Gibson.

“Stand Watie, in the face of superior numbers, retired from Gibson without a struggle, but for the rest of the war years, he raided up and down the Texas Road, waylaying wagon trains from Fort Scott, Kansas, from which Fort Gibson had to be supplied. On one occasion… he captured a supply train valued at $1,500,000. …

“The scorched-earth policy Stand Watie pursued devastated the country and resulted in starvation and near-starvation for thousands of Indians. The confederacy strengthened the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, renaming it the Indian Brigade by reinforcing it with several regiment of white Texan volunteers.

“But it is not with the four bitter years of the war itself that this narrative is principally concerned; it is with the poverty, the starvation, the memory of the wanton killing and cruelty it left behind, all of which unmistakably made the ground fertile for the generation of outlaws who were to follow, such a Henry Star, Sam Starr, Rufus Buck, Cherokee Bill, his brother Clarence and a score of others. ”

EvX: Note that Drago generally favors environmental explanations for the emergence of outlawry in the post-Civil War period.

Coincidentally, I first heard about Stand Watie–a rather obscure historical figure–the day before I picked up this book. There is a movement afoot in Oklahoma, inspired by the recent vogue for tearing down Confederate monuments, to rename Stand Watie Elementary.

Regardless of which side you favored in the War Between the States, Stand Watie sounds like an unpleasant person who killed or almost killed thousands of his own people. But Oklahoma, in a rare display of sanity, has noted that renaming schools costs money, and Oklahoma’s education budget is pretty tight.

See you next Friday for a full discussion of Quantrell’s Civil War depredations.

Clinton vs. Bush, or Why you should have Multiple Children

Original

As the only heir of the immensely wealthy and powerful Clinton family, Chelsea has been thrust into the public spotlight following her mother’s electoral defeat.

Unfortunately for the Blue Tribe she is supposed to lead, Mrs. Chelsea isn’t too bright. Her Twitter comment was intended as a critique of the claim that Confederate statues and monuments should not be torn down because they symbolize part of America’s history.

Milan Cathedral

This statement depends entirely on churches Chelsea has personally visited. “I have not personally seen this” is a bad argument. All it takes is a few churches she hasn’t attended that happen to have Lucifer statues to disprove her whole point.

And if you know anything about churches, you know that some of them have an awful lot of statues. The Milan Cathedral has 3,400 of them! They cover these things with gargoyles–do you really want to make a political argument that hinges on whether or not there’s a Lucifer in there somewhere?

The Vatican’s new statue

But you don’t have to travel to famous Italian cathedrals to hunt for the Devil; I have a statuette of Satan defeated by Michel the Archangel about ten feet away on my mantle. Do you know how many statues there are of this guy? Both Popes got together in 2013 to consecrate a new statue of him–complete with Lucifer–in the middle of the holy Vatican City.

Satan also shows up in Christian art and iconography in a variety of disguises, such as a Dragon (defeated by St. George) and a serpent (trod upon by the Virgin Mary.)

If we expand our search to include paintings and stained glass, we find almost endless examples, such as the famous Sistine Chapel frescoes (Michelangelo put the Mouth of Hell right over the Pope’s chair, I hear.)

But even if we limit ourselves to freestanding statues solely of Lucifer himself–not of him being defeated or crushed, not in symbolic form nor painted on the walls, we still have this rather cute little Devil seated outside Marienkirche church in Lübeck, Germany; this large and creepy statue of Lucifer tangled in power lines in the Holy Trinity Church in Marylebone, Westminster; a frightening devil from the church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Rennes-le-Château; Satan pushing the damned into the Leviathan’s mouth, a 12th century Romanesque Carving from the Church Sainte Foy, France; Satan again; carving of Satan being cast out of Heaven from Pisa, Italy; the Devil weighing souls and leading away the damned, Notre Dame, France; another from Notre Dame; devils carved into a church in Lincolnshire, England; a little devil in St. Severin, France; Satan on a pillar, Chatellerault, France; statue of the Devil at the Grotto of St. Anthony, Belgium; and for that matter, there are a lot of frankly obscene carvings in older churches.

We could do this all day, but I think you get the point: there are a lot of depictions of the Devil in Christian churches. Having been raised Methodist is no excuse; somewhere between attending Sidwell Friends, Stanford, Oxford, Columbia, etc., Chelsea has surely learned something about European art.

Considering Chelsea’s level of worldliness–one of the privileged glitterati who get to spend their lives drifting from board to board of different companies and exclusive soirees for the rich and famous–you’d expect her to have at least noticed the carvings on a European cathedral or two.

Even Chelsea’s writing career shows few signs of brilliance: she’s written two books for kids (one of those a picture book) and co-authored one for adults, which has–wow–absolutely rock-bottom reviews. Considering her kids’ books got good reviews, I don’t think this is a troll campaign–it looks like her book is actually terrible.

Unfortunately for the increasingly old and decrepit senior Clintons, lack-luster Chelsea is the only egg in their basket: they have no other kids to prop her up or take the limelight for her.

The Bush family in the Red Room of the White House (January 2005).

By contrast, President and first lady George H. W. and Barbara Bush had 6 children–George Walker Bush, Pauline Robinson “Robin” Bush (1949–1953, died of leukemia), John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Neil Mallon Pierce Bush, Marvin Pierce Bush, and Dorothy Bush Koch.[9] George “W” Bush, although not noted for intellectual excellence, managed to follow in his father’s footsteps and also become President; his brother Jeb was governor of Florida; and Neil and Marvin are doing well for themselves in business.

According to Wikipedia, George and Barbara’s five surviving children have produced 14 grand children (including two adoptees) and 7 great-grandchildren, for a total of 24 living descendants. Chelsea Clinton, while obviously younger, has only 2 children.

Having one child is an effective way to concentrate wealth, but the Bush family, by putting its eggs into more baskets, has given itself more opportunities for exceptional children to rise to prominence and make alliances (marriages, friendships) with other wealthy and powerful families.

The Clintons, by contrast, now have only Chelsea to lead them.

Politics are Getting Dumber

You don’t need to watch the video. I haven’t watched the video. I’m only highlighting it because it starts with a moronic question.

Meanwhile, in the social justice warriors vs inanimate objects department:

Kick that statue! Yeah! You show that big chunk of metal who’s boss!

And in inanimate objects vs. inanimate objects:

CNN is impressed by the fact that statues (normally) don’t move.

This one is stupid on several levels–the statue itself, erected by a male-dominated industry to celebrate “female empowerment,” infantilizes women by symbolically depicting them as a small, stupid child who doesn’t know enough to get out of the way of a charging bull.

You know, I could keep posting examples of stupidity all day.

Mob mentality is never good, but it seems like political discourse is getting progressively stupider.

It takes a certain level of intelligence to do two critical things:

  1. Understand and calmly discuss other people’s opinions even when you disagree with them
  2. Realize that cooperating in the prisoner’s dilemma is long-term better than defecting, even if you don’t like the people you’re cooperating with

Traditional “liberalism”* was a kind of meta-political technology for allowing different groups of people to live in one country without killing each other. Freedom of Religion, for example, became an agreed-upon principle after centuries of religious violence in Europe. If the state is going to promote a particular religion and outlaw others, then it’s in every religious person’s interest to try to take over the state and make sure it enforces their religion. If the state stays (ostensibly) neutral, then no one can commandeer it to murder their religious enemies.

*”Liberal” has in recent years become an almost empty anachronism, but I hope its meaning is clear in the historical context of 1787.

Freedom of Speech, necessary for people to make informed decisions, has recently come under attack for political reasons. Take the thousands of protestors who showed up to an anti-Free Speech rally in Boston on Sat, August 19th.

The Doublespeak is Strong with this One

Of course no one likes letting their enemies speak, but everyone is someone else’s enemy. Virtually every historical atrocity was committed by people convinced that they were right and merely opposing evil, despicable people. Respecting free speech does not require liking other people’s arguments. It requires understanding that if you start punching Nazis, Nazis will punch you back, and soon everyone will be screaming “Nazi!” while punching random people.

Edit: apparently one article I linked to was a hoax. Hard to tell sometimes.

Now, Free Speech has often been honored more as an ideal than a reality. When people are out of power, they tend to defend the ideal rather strongly; when in power, they suddenly seem to lose interest in it. But most people interested in politics still seemed to have some general sense that even if they hated that other guy’s guts, it might be a bad idea to unleash mob violence on him.

In general, principles like free speech and freedom of religion let different people–and different communities of people–run their own lives and communities as they see fit, without coming into direct conflict with each other, while still getting to enjoy the national security and trade benefits of living in a large country. The Amish get to be Amish, Vermonters get to live free or die, and Coloradans get to eat pot brownies.

But that requires being smart enough to understand that to keep a nation of over 300 million people together, you have to live and let live–and occasionally hold your nose and put up with people you hate.

These days, politics just seems like it’s getting a lot dumber:

Cat that nearly died after being attacked by a thug “because he looks like Hitler” has now recovered despite losing an eye.

Anthropology Friday: God of the Rodeo: Angola, Louisiana

Point Lookout Cemetery, Angola

Angola, also known as the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is the largest maximum-security prison in the US. It holds 6,300 inmates, most of them for life–and for those who have no families or friends to bury them, death.

Before it became a prison, Angola was a slave plantation, named for the country most of its residents came from. With 18,000 acres and a working farm (complete with cotton fields) run by inmates, many people call it the nation’s last plantation.

I wanted to move away from traditional anthropology–focused primarily on “primitive,” non-industrialized peoples–and focus instead on the economic, political, and social lives of people on the margins of our own societies, such as pirates; criminals; prisoners; and the completely innocent, ordinary poor.

Alas, not many anthropologists have infiltrated criminal organizations and written books about them, (I can’t imagine why,) and my selection among the books that do exist is limited by what I can actually get my hands on. With that in mind, I selected Bergner’s God of the Rodeo: The Quest for Redemption in Louisiana’s Angola Prison (1999.)

Spoiler alert: This is not an upbeat book. I mean, the author tries. He really does. But we are still talking about criminals who’ve been sent to prison for life. If you’re looking for something cheerful, go look at funny cat pictures.

Amazon’s blurb for the book reads:

Never before had Daniel Bergner seen a spectacle as bizarre as the one he had come to watch that Sunday in October. Murderers, rapists, and armed robbers were competing in the annual rodeo at Angola, the grim maximum-security penitentiary in Louisiana. The convicts, sentenced to life without parole, were thrown, trampled, and gored by bucking bulls and broncos before thousands of cheering spectators. But amid the brutality of this gladiatorial spectacle Bergner caught surprising glimpses of exaltation, hints of triumphant skill.

The incongruity of seeing hope where one would expect only hopelessness, self-control in men who were there because they’d had none, sparked an urgent quest in him. Having gained unlimited and unmonitored access, Bergner spent an unflinching year inside the harsh world of Angola. He forged relationships with seven prisoners who left an indelible impression on him. There’s Johnny Brooks, seemingly a latter-day Stepin Fetchit, who, while washing the warden’s car, longs to be a cowboy and to marry a woman he meets on the rodeo grounds. Then there’s Danny Fabre, locked up for viciously beating a woman to death, now struggling to bring his reading skills up to a sixth-grade level. And Terry Hawkins, haunted nightly by the ghost of his victim, a ghost he tries in vain to exorcise in a prison church that echoes with the cries of convicts talking in tongues. …

According to Bergner, in Angola’s early days in the late 1800s (post-Civil War,) conditions were extremely bad. Convicts were basically worked to death in Louisiana’s swamps; average life expectancy for a long-term prisoner was only 6 years.

The state took over the prison in 1901, which hopefully ended the working-to-death-era, but as Wikipedia notes:

Charles Wolfe and Kip Lornell, authors of The Life and Legend of Leadbelly, said that Angola was “probably as close to slavery as any person could come in 1930.” Hardened criminals broke down upon being notified that they were being sent to Angola. White-black racial tensions in the society were expressed at the prison, adding to the violence: each year one in every ten inmates received stab wounds.

In 1952, 31 inmates cut their own Achilles’ tendons in protest against prison conditions, (which are reported as pretty horrible,) but things didn’t really improve until the 70s, when Judge Polozola decided the prison was so bad that if the legislature find funds to clean things up, he’d start releasing prisoners. According to Bergner, this led to an initial improvement in conditions, but subsequently a liberal warden with a kumbaya-approach to running the place was appointed and matters degenerated again. The lax approach to managing the prisoners led to men sleeping in cafeteria-tray armor in hopes of not being murdered by their neighbors in the middle of the night.

A more conservative warden replaced the liberal one, marched in military style, re-established order, and got the shivving rate back down. Angola appears to have found a workable middle-ground between getting worked to death in the swamps and getting stabbed to death during candle-lit kumbaya sessions.

But since Louisiana is poor and people tend not to want to spend money on criminals, Wikipedia notes:

In 2009, the prison reduced its budget by $12 million by “double bunking” (installing bunk beds to increase the capacity of dormitories), reducing overtime, and replacing officers with security cameras.[36]

That sounds like a bad idea.

Unfortunately for me, Bergner doesn’t explore the prisoners’ economy beyond the occasional reference to trade in cheese, cigarettes, or marijuana. (Cigarettes as prison currency appears confirmed.) He also doesn’t go into much detail about how the 6,300 prisoners (many of whom sleep in a large, open dormitory) regulate social relations among themselves. Rather, he focuses on describing the lives of a handful of inmates. Bergner’s mission is to humanize them–to portray them as people who, potentially, could be redeemed–without forgetting their crimes.

The biggest thing that stood out to me while reading was the gulf between these men’s lives and the world of middle and upper-class people who like to say high-minded things about criminals. The common vogue for blaming bad life outcomes on environmental effects–as though a few changes in early childhood could have radically changed the course of these men’s lives (and their victims’,) sending them to university instead of prison.

But this is not the story the mens’ biographies tell.

Obviously some people end up in prison by accident–unfortunate folks who actually were wrongly convicted. Then there are folks who did make a bad decision–or whose parents made bad decisions–that led to a much-regretted action. But this does not describe most of the Bergner’s criminals.

Rather, they share a combination of impulsiveness (high time preference,) aggression, and low-IQ.

In isolation, each of these traits is not so bad. People with Down’s Syndrome aren’t very bright, but they’re friendly and don’t murder others. An aggressive but smart person can understand the consequences of their actions and direct their aggression to socially-acceptable activities. But taken together, even people who later greatly regret their actions can, in a fit of rage, put a meat-cleaver into someone’s skull.

And even once they are in prison–a place where the average person might reflect that violence was a bad life choice–many criminals commit yet more violence–beating, raping, stabbing, and occasionally killing each other. Despite Angola being more peaceful than it was in the past (a peace imposed by marching guards in full riot gear,) it still requires constant, armed surveillance and daily searches to prevent the prisoners from shivving each other.

Bergner also visits a former Angola inmate in his home, where he now lives with his mother. As they survey the landscape surveying his childhood home–burned down buildings, crack houses on every corner, childhood friends consumed by drug use–it is clear that the traits that lead many men to Angola are not abnormalities, but more extreme forms of the traits responsible for the degradation around them.

This is an extremely difficult problem to solve, or even think up potential solutions for. It’s easy to say, “get the crack out of the cities,” but there were people dealing drugs even inside Angola. If people can smuggle and sell drugs in a maximum security prison, I don’t think anything short of heads on pikes will stop them from smuggling drugs into cities.

And even well-intentioned, drug-free people struggle with basics like picking up trash from their yards and preventing their homes from falling apart. As Bergner writes:

We stepped away from the house, a shabby box of pale green wood, the house Littell had been born in, that his mother still lived in, that he had returned to. A corroded swing set stood in front, then a low, wilting cyclone fence, then a stack of four torn tires like a welcoming statue beside the fence gate. … He never invited me inside, and I have always wondered what level of decrepitude or disarray he preferred not to show me…

Across from his house a vacant lot occupied half the block, a reminder of the property facing O’Brien, except that there the grass was cut low, while here saplings crowded one another amid shoulder-high reeds. An abandoned nightclub buckled behind the saplings. Within the tall grass were the charred boards of two houses leveled by arson while Littell had been at Angola. A pair of tremendous oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, had once shaded those houses. The trees still thrived, though now the effect was different, the dangling webs of moss no longer gentle but looking like an onslaught of chaotic growth spilling from the sky.

“This neighborhood was no Fifth Avenue,” Littell said as we passed between the lot on one side and homes like his mother’s on the other. “But it looked good. Fifteen years ago, a lot of these houses were still pretty new. Now it’s like nature’s taking over. When people move into a community they build up on nature, and now it’s like nature’s coming back and the will of man is losing out.” …

But he felt more threatened than I did, walking me around the neighborhood. Up ahead, three or four teenagers sat on the unrailed porch of a shack with boarded up windows. “They think you’re here to buy drugs,” he said, their eyes tracking us past the house. “They think I’m bringing the white dude around.” …

It was no joke to him. …. He had nothing to show the police if they stopped him for questioning. …

“Every evening, I try to be back inside by eight o’clock,” he said, “‘Cause all I need is to be in the wrong place at the time. They ask me for some ID, they see I got none, they run a check, see I’ve been to Angola, that’s it. Any unsolved robbery, they can pin it on me. You see, Dan, the new thing is that crack. And that’s everybody. It’s seldom you see anyone around here who’s straight. Sometimes it makes me thankful for Angola–all the guys I grew up with are wasted on it.”…

Then I listened to the neighborhood. At six-thirty in the evening it was silent, almost motionless. The dealers on their porch weren’t speaking. Nor were the women in their dingy yellow or powder blue knee-length shorts, sitting on a stoop propped up on cinder blocks. They only stared. No cars drove by…. A few rickety bicycles difted past,w ith grown men riding them. The supermarket where we went to buy sodas had seel mesh ove every window and, inside, scarecely any light… The grocery seemed to be the only operating business around. …

The place was like a ghost town, still inhabited.

I’ve often wondered: what is the difference between poverty and merely being poor or living at a lower socio-economic level? We don’t normally think of nomadic hunter-gatherers or pastoralists as “homeless.” A homeless guy sleeping under a bridge is poor, an aberration in a society where most people can afford homes; a hunter-gatherer sleeping in the bush is just living like his ancestors have always lived.

We might say that poverty is a departure from a community’s average–that is, a man is poor in comparison with his neighbors, not some global, a-historical ranking. But it seems a little dishonest to lump together people who live simply on purpose with people who struggle hard but still can’t get ahead.

So I propose a second definition: the inability to maintain the level of civilization you’re in. The Amish, for example, have a relatively low standard of living, low incomes, etc. But they are more than up to the task of maintaining their infrastructure, building their homes and barns, taking care of their horses, raising crops, etc. Amish society isn’t falling apart.

By contrast, Littell’s neighborhood has fallen apart over the fifteen years he spent at Angola. Nature is reclaiming the houses and burned-out businesses. We can blame crack, but that’s just kicking it back a level: why was this neighborhood blighted by crack while others went unscathed?

Many of the prisoners Bergner follows are functionally illiterate–one struggles (and fails) to pass a quiz intended for younger elementary school children. His struggle cannot be blamed on “lack of opportunity to learn,” as he is enrolled in a prison-based literacy programed whose entire purpose is to help inmates learn to read, and if there’s one thing people have lots of in Angola, it’s time.

Again, just as with impulsivity and aggression, the prisoners’ low-IQ mirrors that of their neighbors and peers back in the free population.

To be fair, this does not describe all of the prisoners. Some (like editors of the Angolite, Angola’s award-winning prison magazine) seem bright; some come across not as impulsively aggressive, but truly sociopathic.

Bergner wants us to consider redemption–the possibility, at least, that some of the men who have served 20, 30, or 40 years in prison may not be dangerous anymore, might have repented, might deserve a second chance at life. (One of the men he follows does seem truly sorry:

“Please take him off,” Terry prayed late at night, in Walnut [one of the dorms.] “He’s hunting me down again.”

His bedtime ritual had been performed hours earlier. On his cot, he had read the verses he’d highlighted months ago during his Bible group back at D. He turned the thin pages to find the neat orange markings

Lord, I cry unto Thee:
make haste unto me;
Give ear unto my voice…
Incline not my heart to any evil thing.

Then, twenty feet from whee the man had lost his sneakers and gained a long, scythe-shaped scar on the left side of his face, Terry knelt beside his own cot and closed his eyes and lowered his head to his folded head.

“Lord Jesus,” Terry went on, with a persistent hope that he was heard though he had failed to be saved,”thank you for looking over me… please keep an eye on my, Lord; can You take some of this away, Lord? Can you forgive me, Lord? …”

But after midnight something had woken him, and now Mr. Denver Tarter wouldn’t let him return to sleep. So Terry knelt again. …

“Please take him off. Please just this one thing.”

Religion plays a prominent role in the narrative, from the warden’s blustering claims of saving souls to the prison’s Pentecostal, “holy roller” church service; from quiet Bible study to the chaplain’s rounds:

Chaplain Holloway was assigned to Camp J. … Holloway pushed a grocery cart full of inspirational literature. … “What’s up, bro?” the chaplain asked at each set of bars. “What can I get for you, bro?” Built thick, a football player in college, he was a white hipster in a golfing shirt in the middle of the Inferno. I don’t know what he was, but he was tireless. And kind.

“How’d you end up back on One, bro?” he asked an emaciated man, referring to the worst of J’s levels, where you were let out of your cell–int a solitary dogrun–only two hours each week.

“I just told hello to a nurse on hospital call and told her she looked beautiful this morning.”

“Well, you know, babe,’ the chaplain said, understanding what had probably happened, that the man had told her hello and started jerking off, “next time just say hi and skip the rest of the verbology.”

He asked the man if he wanted to pray. They held hands and, leaning together, their foreheads almost touched. “In nine months you could be out of here, back in population,’ he encouraged afterward. … “You want some reading?”

“All right.”

He slipped through the bars a paperback of big-print advice and biblical quotations called You were born a Champion, Don’t Die a Loser. They held hand once more, and the chaplain moved on to the next convict. This was his day, this was his life, cell after cell after cell.

Those of us whose lives are so good that we have time for this voyeurism of peering into prisoners’ lives often approach religion with a disdainful, scornful attitude. Who needs a bunch of rules set down by an invisible sky fairy? Do you really need someone telling you not to steal? Don’t you already know how to behave?

But for many people at the bottom of society–not just criminals, but also the poor, the suffering, folks struggling with addictions, loss, disabilities or life-threatening diseases–religion really does seem to be a comfort, a guide, a way of working toward a better life. As I’ve documented before, in some of the world’s poorest and most isolated places, religious folks are often the only people willing to go to these awful places to try to help people.

It’s easy to look at statistics and say, “religious people are, on average, poor/less educated/more likely to be in prison/etc than atheists” but maybe this is like saying that people who buy hammers have a lot more nails that need pounding in than people who don’t.

The last thing that stands out in this narrative is the women who date and marry convicted murderers. Two of the men whose lives Bergner follows begin dating while in prison (for life). One meets a woman while performing in the annual Angola rodeo; she is impressed by his amateur bull-riding performance and they begin writing letters back and forth. Soon they were planning marriage, hoping for a pardon or an overturned conviction:

Pretty soon, he’d have it going in the courts. Pretty soon, he’d be working for Gerry Lane [just a guy he hopes to work for] himself, raising Belva’ kids like a regular father, straightening out her daughter and making sure the rest of them stayed on the right road Pretty soon, he’d have a son of his own. Pretty soon he’d be lying in bed next to Belva with all their letters piled up between them, all their letters from when he was in Angola, to read over how they got started.

They would be a family. They were already. He hadn’t met the two daughters, but the two boys had been to visit once, when there had been room in Sandra’s car. [Belva doesn’t have her own car but gets a ride with another woman visiting someone at the prison.] He played Pac-Man with the boys. …

Pac-Man: who knew?

The little Pac-Man munches snapped their jaws, and Brooks urged, “Gobble ’em, son, gobble ’em, move that stick,” and Marcus squealed, “Coon ass things! Coon ass things!” He seemed to think the Pac-Man prey were Cajun rednecks.

“Con ass things?” Brooks laughed.

And Marcus aw that it was funny. “Coon ass things! Coon ass things!” He cracked himself up, and Brooks put his cheek next to Marcus’s jittery, giggling head.

The boys had sent Brooks a Father’s Day card, and after his phone call with Belva he took the card from his box …:

“No one chooses a Dad
From a magazine ad
Or a paper with classifieds in it….

But if we’d had the chance
For a choice in advance
You’re the Dad we’d have picked in a minute.”

Tight to the top of the inside page, the thirteen-year-old, Kenny, had drawn a smiley face and written, “You are the father we did not have.”

He and Belva do get married, in a ceremony in one of the prison chapels. I rather doubt the relationship will last for the long-haul, however. Dating a guy in prison may seem fun at first, but as year after year of a life sentence pass by (and the author gives us no real reason to expect the men will receive the pardons they hope for,) the problems inherent in any long-distance relationship begin to manifest.

Bergner describes another relationship, begun when the prison’s band performed a show off prison grounds and the guitarist met a fan. She, too, already had a child (in this case, only one,) who quickly bonded with her “new father.” They were also married, but as the years passed, she stopped calling, stopped visiting. I suspect she has just grown bored, found someone else who is physically present in her own neighborhood.

Bergner doesn’t explore these women’s lives, what motivates them to date criminals serving life sentences for murder, nor the effects on their children. Chances are there is something deeply wrong in these women’s lives. Whether it is merely that love sometimes blooms in even unusual places, or something deeper, I can’t say and Bergner makes no comment. His focus is the criminals.

Race is obviously ever-present in the book–Angola’s population is about 90% African American, (according to Bergner,) in a state that’s only 30% black–but he never addresses it in any systematic way, nor does he discuss how (if at all) race impacts relationships between the prisoners.

Disclaimer: my copy of the book was missing a few pages, so there might have been something on those pages that I missed.

Ultimately, this isn’t exactly the book I’d have chosen for Anthropology Friday if I’d had more options, but it was still a good read and probably deserves more attention than it’s garnered.

Book Review: Aphrodite and the Rabbis

When I started researching Judaism, the first thing I learned was that I didn’t know anything about Judaism. It turns out that Judaism-in-the-Bible (the one I was familiar with) and modern Judaism are pretty different.

Visotzky’s Aphrodite and The Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as we Know it explores the transition from Biblical to Rabbinic Judaism. If you’re looking for an introductory text on the subject, it’s a good place to start. (It doesn’t go into the differences between major modern-day Jewish groups, though. If you’re looking for that, Judaism for Dummies or something along those lines will probably do.)

I discussed several ideas gleaned from this book in my prior post on Talmudism and the Constitution. Visotzky’s thesis is basically that Roman culture (really, Greco-Roman culture) was the dominant culture in the area when the Second Temple fell, and thus was uniquely influential on the development of early Rabbinic Judaism.

Just to recap: Prior to 70 AD, Judaism was located primarily in its homeland of Judea, a Roman province. It was primarily a temple cult–people periodically brought sacrifices to the priests, the priests sacrificed them, and the people went home. There were occasional prophets, but there were no rabbis (though there were pharisees, who were similar.)  The people also practiced something we’ll call for simplicity’s sake folk Judaism, passed down culturally and not always explicitly laid out in the Mosaic Law. (This is a simplification; see the prior post for more details.)

Then there were some big rebellions, which the Romans crushed. They razed the Temple (save for the Western Wall) and eventually drove many of the Jews into exile.

It was in this Greco-Roman cultural environment, Visotzky argues, that then-unpracticeable Temple Judaism was transformed into Rabbinic Judaism.

Visotzky marshals his arguments: Jewish catacombs in Rome, Talmudic stories that reference Greek or Roman figures, Greek fables that show up in Jewish collections, Greek and Roman words that appear in Jewish texts, Greco-Roman style art in synagogues (including a mosaic of Zeus!), the model of the rabbi + his students as similar to the philosopher and his students (eg, Socrates and Plato,) Jewish education as modeled on Greek rhetorical education, and the Passover Seder as a Greek symposium.

Allow me to quote Visotzky on the latter:

The recipe for a successful symposium starts, of course, with wine. At least three cups, preferably more, and ideally you would need between three and five famous guests. Macrobius describes a symposium at which he imagined all the guests drinking together, even though some were already long dead. They eat hors d’oeuvers, which they dip into a briny sauce. Their appetite is whetted by sharp vegetables, radishes, or romaine lettuce. The Greek word for these veggies is karpos. Each food is used as a prompt to dig through one’s memory to find apposite bookish quotes about it. … Above all, guests at a symposium loved to quote Home, the divine Homer. …

To kick off a symposium, a libation was poured to Bacchus Then the dinner guests took their places reclining on pillows, leaning on their left arms, and using their right hands to eat. Of course, they washed their fingers before eating their Mediterranean flatbreads, scooping up meats and poultry–no forks back then.

Athenaeus records a debate about desert, a sweet paste of fruit, wine, and spices. Many think it a nice digestive, but Athenaeus quotes Heracleides of Tarentum, who argues that such a lovely dish ought to be the appetizer, eaten at the outside of the meal. After the sumptuous meal and the endless quotation of texts… the symposium diners sang their hymns of thanksgiving to the gods. …

All of this should seem suspiciously familiar to anyone who has ever attended a Passover Seder. The traditional Seder begins with a cup of wine, and blessings to God are intoned. Then hands are washed in preparation for eating the dipped vegetables, called karpos, the Greek word faithfully transliterated int Hebrew in the Passover Haggadah. Like the symposiasts, Jews dip in brine. The traditional Haggadah recalls who was there at the earliest Seders: Rabbi Eliezer … Rabbi Aqiba, and Rabbi Tarphon (a Hebraized version of the Greek name Tryphon). The converation is prompted by noting the foods that are served and by asking questions whose answers quote sacred scripture. …

Traditionally the Passover banquet is eaten leaning on the left side, on pillows. Appetites are whetted by bitter herbs and then sweetened by the paste-like Haroset (following the opinion of Heracleides of Tarentum?) Seder participants even scoop up food in flatbread. Following the Passover meal there are hymns to God.

Vigotzsky relates one major difference between the Greek and Jewish version: the Greeks ended their symposiums with a “descent into debauchery,” announced api komias–to the comedians! Jews did not:

Indeed, the Mishnah instructs, “We do not end the meal after eating the paschal lamb by departing api komias.” That final phrase, thanks to the Talmud of Jewish Babylonia, where they did not know Greek, has come to be Hebraized as “afi-komen,” the hidden piece of matzo eaten for desert.

The one really important piece of data that he leaves out–perhaps he hasn’t heard the news–is the finding that Ashkenazi Jews are genetically about half Italian. This Italian DNA is primarily on their maternal side–that is, Jewish men, expelled from Judea, ended up in Rome and took local wives. (Incidentally, Visotzky also claims that the tradition of tracing Jewish ancestry along the maternal line instead of the paternal was adopted from the Romans, as it isn’t found in the Bible, but is in Rome.) These Italian ladies didn’t leave behind many stories in the Talmud, but surely they had some effect on the religion.

On the other hand, what about Jews in areas later controlled by Islam, like Maimonides? Was Rome a major influence on him, too? What about the Babylonian Talmud, written more or less in what is now Iraq?

Modern Christianity owes a great deal to Greece and Rome. Should modern Judaism be understood in the Greco-Roman lens, as well?

Mongolia Isn’t Sorry

Genghis Khan killed approximately 40 million people–so many that historians debate whether the massive decrease in agriculture caused by the deaths of so many farmers helped trigger the Little Ice Age. DNA analysis indicates that 1 in 200 people alive today is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan or his immediate male family.

The Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, erected in 2008 near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, stands 130 ft (40 m) tall, its pedestal an entire museum. It is one of the world’s tallest statues–and the tallest equestrian statue–a status it shares primarily with the Buddha and other eastern deities.

Mongolians regard him as the father of their country.