“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, September 12, 2002


Words written in anger. LI finds this incredible: writers are treated so badly by the media that it either stupifies us, forces us to quit, or demoralizes us beyond repair. This is the second time in the last five days that LI has had to go without food for a day. The reason? No money in the bank. The reason: One company has deliberately floated me -- not paid me -- for work I turned in in June, and that was published in July. One company has "lost" my invoice -- this makes the second time in the last month. For that company, I have reviewed approximately ten to fifteen books in the last five weeks. Result: I am living by leeching on my friends. Leeching only goes so far, however. So, today, I didn't have the money to buy ten dollars worth of groceries from the clerk, who makes more than me, and who is paid biweekly. The time divide is the major divide in this country: a company can take its time about paying you, in spite of the contracts they have you sign in order to spin your work off without you gaining a penny by it, and they can do this repeatedly, and they can do this without penalty. This has happened with Lefty magazines; it has happened with national newspapers. You wouldn't think so, but this is true.The writer cannot make the same bargain with the grocer, the landlord, or the electric company. These are my expenses this week: 30.00 for groceries. 5.00 for a meal -- a big treat for me, going out and getting a sandwich! 4.00 for coffees. I would like to see anybody survive on what I am forced to, with chronic, unexplained shortfalls making me truly unable to say that I can eat tomorrow. In the literal sense, I can't. I will find some body, I hope, who can take me out. Hurray.
This is the life of a beast.
This is the system that makes life beastly. I am living in nineteenth century squalor. I am imprisoned in my conditions, and no amount of labor seems to help. I am being driven mad by this. Literally.
I can howl and scream, I can beat my skinny belly, but nothing, nothing changes.
What to do?

Wednesday, September 11, 2002


September 11. LI was not going to post today. But then we thought, reading the NYT, and various media, that it might be a good idea to post today. After all, this is the week that Bush has chosen to press forward with his war against Iraq, with his address to the United Nations. And we were surprised to see Bush's comments on the NYT op-ed page -- surprised because we didn't expect to see a Washington Times guy like Bush appearing in same space used by Susan Sontag Monday.

So we decided, one year later, to take a look at Sontag's much condemned response to 9/11. It was easy to find on the web. A NYU finance professor has even taken the trouble to combine Sontag's 9/10 piece in the Times and the New Yorker piece. Here's the first paragraph, the one that drew down the wrath of the heavens last year:

"The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose
of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling & depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower; undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards. "

It was part of the disconnect from reality that much of the controversy about this graf had to do with whether or not the hijackers were or were not cowardly. The controversy seems, in retrospect, bizarre. On the one hand, to undertake to kill yourself in a cause can be construed as brave. On the other hand, to undertake to kill others without warning in a cause to which they are not clearly, if at all, connected can be construed as cowardly. It depends, obviously, on which end of the action you look at. In the end, I'd say that the story of war in this century is about the systematic displacement of all of the elements that were once engaged in the semantic field of "bravery." It is a field that fell to the technology of distance. Bombing Iraq is, indeed, another example in the endless story of 20th century fighting -- it is impervious to descriptions of cowardice and bravery. Once cowardice wins wars, and bravery loses them, the virtues begin to lose their luster.

That Bush would reach, instinctively, for the "coward" appelation had to do with forestalling criticism of his own regard for his skin, that day -- criticism that has been so reversed that we are now assured that the President nearly fought with his pilots to take Air Force one immediately to D.C., so brave a hero is he. This is blatantly untrue, and to the extent that Sontag takes on the press for "impression management," she is precisely right. That Sontag, a literary critic, fell for Bush's description of the act and the invitation to descriptions derived from an irrelevant system of virtues -- that in fact she doesn't make the elementary analysis of the coward trope that she, a good Barthesian, could easily have done -- gives us a measure of how confusing -- how stricken -- the period after 9/11 was. Criticism isn't simply opposition, and that, of course, was the whole problem with Sontag's piece.

The other thing to note, after a year, is that Sontag's numerous conservative critics -- who called her various names, like filthy, quisling, etc. -- now essentially agree with her that the whole thing was about Iraq. This would be funny, if it wasn't so not-funny. Of course, what we provisionally know, after a year of probing the Al Quaeda network, is that it wasn't at all about Iraq. It was about Saudi Arabia, first. It was about the perception that still lives, in the Arab world, among certain leaders, that the U.S. is a paper tiger -- a perception that arose from the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 83, and the subsequent American retreat from Lebanon. And if what has been reported about the preaching in the "radical" mosques in Hamburg is correct, it was about "Jewry" -- a soiled, disgusting theme that we are all too familiar with. The WP has an article, today, with the dime novel title, Hamburg's Cauldron of Terror, which quotes a typical sermon of the kind that, apparently, nourished Mohammed Atta's soul:

"The Al Quds mosque opened in 1993 and became a center for incendiary views. "The Jews and crusaders must have their throats slit," said Imam Mohammed bin Mohammed al Fizazi in a pre-Sept. 11 sermon, which was videotaped.

Such preaching has continued. The Post last month purchased a video at the Al Quds mosque in which an Islamic preacher, identified as Sheik Azid al Kirani, shouts out a call for mortal combat against "Jews, Israel and all unbelievers."

There is little common ground between the purveyors of this kind of Islamic ultramontanism and Iraq. There's good reason that none of the hijackers were Iraqi -- the issue between the U.S. and Iraq is definitely not at the center of the thinking of people like Atta, who detest the thought of secular Arabic power. "How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?", Sontag justly asks. What she implies, however, is, distressingly, a view that has become very orthodox in right wing circles: the Middle East is one uniform mass, in which the differences between, say, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein melt down to a feeble few. This view is just plain wrong: its falsity can be spelled out in body counts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

To continue from our last post� the Eyre affair. Governor James Eyre�s suppression of a �rebellion� in the Crown colony of Jamaica, and his subsequent trial by commission, is so much antiquarian dust today, but it shouldn't be. So we are grateful to two economists, David M. Levy and Sandra Peart, who have publicized this affair. In an interview with Reason magazine, these two sum up what they think they have discovered: the dark connection between opposition to laissez faire economics and racism. They are particularly focused on the chief disputants in England: Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill. These men, for Levy and Peart, stand not only for themselves, but also for two different ideologies: one statist, paternalistic, ultimately socialist, and one laissez faire, individualistic, and liberal � in the classical sense.

Q: What were the connections between the contempt for markets and defense of slavery?
A: Markets bust hierarchy. Carlyle also coined the term "consumer sovereignty" in 1833. It was a sneering reference to political economist Richard Whately�s exchange theory of government, in which policy is viewed as a trade between something like equals. Carlyle�s view of the world was that it should be ruled by hierarchy and the worship of heroes. Obedience to the demands of your superiors was everything. The exchange inherent in markets -- rather than the command of hierarchy -- was anarchy.

That markets don't bust hierarchy is a claim that, of course, the two don't consider -- even though it certainly animates a large tradition in the left, which goes from the French Revolution to Galbraith. However, the tie between hierarchy and racism is the one that concerns us here. The Eyre affair seems to seal their case. After showing that the motives behind the defense of Eyre were demonstrably racist -- that is, the supposition that blacks were inferior, and thus not subject to the judicial conventions protecting whites, animates the protection of Eyre from the consequences of having misused black subjects -- Levy and Peart make a few bold leaps. One of them we will get back to in a further post: the claim that the Reactionary clique gave rise to eugenics. This, it seems to us, is a serious distortion of the historical record.

First, let's get back to what happened in Jamaica, in October of 1865. To get a broader view of the facts in the affair, we turned to an article in the Winter, 2000 Clio by Howard Fulweiler, a literature professor at UNC: The Strange Case of Governor Eyre: Race and the "Victorian Frame of Mind". Fulweiler begins, as Levy and Peart do, by claiming that the Eyre affair did reflect distinct cultural differences about race. Astonishingly, in our view, there are academics who claim that the affair was "undetermined' by attitudes towards race. Levy and Peart, who have given a paper on this topic, have made a disheartening discovery about race and racism. The view, currently, is that the past was simply a monologue of racism, from which we fortunate few have somehow emerged. Thus, Mill and Carlyle are lumped together, an indistinguishable duo: Carlyle with his pathological fixation on black bodies, Mill with his defense of the authoritarian rule that the imperial powers could extend to �barbarians.�

"Four months ago when we presented some of our research on the Dismal Science, we heard two criticisms. Two months ago at a conference where we presented different but related papers, we heard similar comments. The first was a rather simple but damning consideration�'Everyone in Victorian England was a racist, so why be particularly annoyed with Carlyle, Ruskin or anyone else's attitudes?'

Clich� liquidates history in the name of stupidity. The dispute between Mill and Carlyle on race was not the nitpicking of two blind lacemakers over the pattern of the drapes. It was a fundamental, and stirring, conflict. Mill�s letter to Carlyle, when Carlyle wrote a piece in the Fraser magazine with the disgusting title, �The N- Question� (I bowdlerize because I don�t want hits to this site based on searches for the word. It is depressing enough to get hit on for �cocksucker� and the like), is an all too little known piece of liberatory lit. Here�s the beginning of it:

�SIR,� Your last month�s number contains a speech against the �rights of Negroes,� the doctrines and spirit of which ought not to pass without remonstrance. The author issues his opinions, or rather ordinances, under imposing auspices no less than those of the �immortal gods.� �The Powers,� �the Destinies,� announce, through him, not only what will be, but what shall be done; what they �have decided upon, passed their eternal act of parliament for.� This is speaking �as one having authority;� but authority from whom l If by the quality of the message we may judge of those who sent it, not from any powers to whom just or good men acknowledge allegiance. This so-called �eternal act of parliament� is no new law, but the old law of the strongest � a law against which the great teachers of mankind have in all ages protested � it is the law of force and cunning; the law that whoever is more powerful than an other, is �born lord� of that other, the other being born his �servant,� who must be �compelled to work� for him by �beneficent whip,� if �other methods avail not.� I see nothing divine in this injunction. If �the gods� will this, it is the first duty of human beings to resist such gods. Omnipotent these �gods� are not, for powers which demand human tyranny and injustice cannot accomplish their purpose unless human beings co�perate. The history of human improvement is the record of a struggle by which inch after inch of ground has been wrung from these maleficent powers, and more and more of human life rescued from the iniquitous dominion of the law of might. Much, very much of this work still remains to do; but the progress made in it is the best and greatest achievement yet performed by mankind, and it was hardly to be expected at this period of the world that we should be enjoined, by way of a great reform in human affair, to begin undoing it.�

This clear account of the case makes even passages in Ruskin, one of the great Victorian rhetoricians, look as shabby as peeling gilt. It is, by the way, interesting how pieces of prose on this side were regarded at the time. Bagehot, one of the many sympathizers of the Confederacy in the British press, found Lincoln�s speeches and writings grotesque and ungrammatical.

Fulweiler makes a move, in his article, that would have made Levy and Peart�s essay stronger: he provides some background for the revolt. This is crucial stuff, since it seems to contravene Levy and Peart's thesis, or at least gives them something to explain. The "rebellion" occurred in the context of unemployment and the disinclination of the colonial government to protect small freeholders against the plantation party. The period succeeding emancipation saw a great increase in unemployment in Jamaica. The slave-owners, who were plantation owners, responded to the liberation of the slaves in two ways: they held onto their position in the Island as the chief generators of wealth -- they did not break out of the sugar dominated system, in other words; and they refused outlay to create infrastructure for the ex-slaves. There was no schooling, none of the supports, even of legality, that would make it possible for the ex-slaves to establish autonomous economic structures. The black and mulatto population petitioned Queen Victoria for redress. In other words, they requested the state's intervention in their economic plight. This goes unmentioned in Levy and Peart's account, but it tells us something about the kind of intellectual history they are pursuing: they are careless of the constituencies of the ideas represented by their champions. In many ways, the rebel movement is consonant with the Chartists, and the nascent union movements in England, both of which were criticized by Carlyle. The intervention petitioned for was not �free trade,� but for some security net. Of course, Levy and Peart could argue that the only way to achieve economic viability would have been through free trade � trade, for instance, with countries outside the British domain � but it is hard to see how small freeholders in Jamaica would have benefited from this.

Governor Eyre's suppression of the rebellion, which amounted to a riot in which 25 people were killed, including some white plantation owners, was to declare martial law, march militia (interestingly, composed of white, mulatto and black Maroon soldiers) into St. Thomas Parish, where the revolt was centered, and kill and whip. But what truly stirred up the intellectuals in London was what happened next:

"At the center of the ensuing storm was George William Gordon, a mulatto landowner, magistrate, member of the Assembly, and Baptist minister, who had championed the cause of the black poor, and had been an implacable enemy of Governor Eyre. Gordon had spoken several times at Bogle's church [Bogle, you will remember from the last post, was the rebel leader- LI] and had ordained him as a Deacon. Governor Eyre believed, as did many others, that Gordon was the mastermind behind the rebellion. Since Gordon was in Kingston during the disturbance, where there was no martial law, the Governor had him arrested, transported on The Wolverine to Morant Bay where he was quickly courtmartialed by junior officers and hanged on October 23 with the express approval of Governor Eyre. Although many deplored the general brutality exercised by the troops, it was the execution of Gordon which later would offer an opportunity to charge Eyre with murder."

Gordon's murder was at the heart of Mill's indignation, Carlyle's defense of Eyre, and the alliance of the evangelicals with the evolutionists. We'll discuss this in another post. Probably not the next one - indignation calls, we have other issues and tasks -- but soon.

Sunday, September 08, 2002


LI was on the horn with our friend, MB. MB mentions an article she's writing for a book on Philosophy and Race, which gets us onto the topic of philosophy and race. So LI mentioned that if the editor expanded his mandate, he ought to include the Eyre Incident. MB hadn't heard of the Eyre incident, and --- putting our cards on the table -- LI has gone many moons in complete Eyre ignorance too. We came across a reference to it in a biography of Mary Kingsley. So we explained what we knew -- that Governor Eyre, in Jamaica, brutally put down a revolt of agricultural workers there, mostly black, in the 1860s. And that he was put on trial for murder. And that the case became a sensation in England, where two different committees were formed, one pro-Eyre, one anti. The pro-Eyre committee was openly contemptuous of the idea that a white man should be prosecuted for murdering black men. Alas, Charles Dickens was on the pro-Eyre committee, as well as the ever racist Thomas Carlyle, and John Ruskin. On the side of the angels, though, was James Stuart Mills. As well as Charles Darwin.

Well, after we got off the horn, we decided to look up Governor Eyre, in order to expand our knowledge from the rather potted account we'd given MB. We were in luck. Two free market economists, David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart, have written a marvelous, long article that centers around the affair. For Levy and Peart, the themes are clear: critics of classical economics, the prototypical descendents of Adam Smith (who are, presumably, statists and other unspeakable things) are, from the beginning, advancing a racist agenda. Racist in the modern sense of refusing to grant, to blacks, or to disfavored ethnic groups (the Irish, mainly) a status of judicial equality, and backgrounding that refusal with a theory of racial or ethnic inferiority.

Now, LI doesn't buy Levy and Peart's entire argument. For one thing, the two make the mistake of taking ideological positions of circumstance to the be equivalent of ideological positions that unfold from logical necessity. Let me explain the difference with a more modern example. Religious conservatives in this country have been in the forefront of the attack on the whole language movement. The whole language movement seeks to teach reading by memorization, and using contextual clues -- whatever that means. Religious conservatives favor phonics.

Now, does is phonics somehow logically inferred from core conservative positions? I think not. LI thinks the whole language movement is, mostly, a crock, and that writing should be learned musically -- by way of phonics. We think this partly because it has been the more successful way to teach reading. We think it provides a more reliable interface between the text as a material object and the body. We think this for any number of reasons. But none of those reasons lead us to other conservative Christian positions. We think that, given other circumstances, the conservative position could as easily be whole language learning, and the liberal position phonics.

In the same way, we think that the racist positions taken by Ruskin and Dickens -- which, in spite of Levy and Peart's efforts, seem marginal to the work of both of those writers -- aren't to be deduced from their criticism of classical economics. With Carlyle, however, it is a wholly other matter.
We'll defend this thesis, and modify it, later on.

However, Levy and Peart are right to use the Eyre dispute as a sort of litmus test to tell us a lot about the intellectual playing field in Victorian England.

Here is the pair's simple, forceful abridgement of the affair:

The Eyre Controversy

"The controversy was triggered by a seemingly trivial event in the British colony of Jamaica. A contemporary witness wrote:

On Saturday the 7th October, 1865, a court of petty sessions was held at Morant Bay. A man made a noise in the court, and was ordered to be brought before justices. He was captured by the police outside, but immediately rescued by one Paul Bogle and several other persons, who had large bludgeons in their hands, and taken into the market-square, where some one hundred and fifty more persons joined them also with sticks: the police were severely beaten. ... On Monday, the 9th, warrants were issued against Paul Bogle and twenty seven others for riot and assault on the Saturday.1 Paul Bogle lives in the lyrics to Bob Marley's"So Much Things To Say."

On Wednesday the police came to enforce the warrants. Stones were thrown at the police. Then the shooting began. The island's Governor, Edward James Eyre, took command. Eyre imposed martial law and called in the army to restore order. By the time the army was done, over 400 Jamaicans were dead, and thousands homeless. Britons were horrified by the methods of state terror, including flogging with wire whips and the use of military courts to deny civilians their rights."

To understand how history, especially if it involves English or American injustice, can be covered up, compare this account to the account in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, in the entry under Eyre:

"1846 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of New Zealand, where he served under Sir George Grey. After successively governing St Vincent and Antigua, he was in 1862 appointed acting-governor of Jamaica and in 1864 governor. In Octobef~ ~865 a negro insurrection broke out and was repressed with laudable vigour, but the unquestionable severity and alleged illegality of Eyre�s subsequent proceedings raised a storm at home which induced the government to suspend him and to despatch a special commission of investigation, the effect of whose inquiries, declared by his successor, Sir John Peter Grant, to have been �admirably conducted,� was that he should not be reinstated in his office. The government, nevertheless, saw nothing in Eyre�s conduct to justify legal proceedings; indictments preferred by amateur prosecutors at home against him and military officers who had acted under his direction, resulted in failure, and he retired upon the pension of a colonial governor."

Laudable vigour -- unpack that phrase and what do you find? Flogging with wire whips and 400 deaths. Something to keep in mind as Bush uses America's "laudable vigour" as he sees fit.

The "amateur prosecutors" -- can't you hear the Tory sneer in that phrase? -- were stimulated by John Stuart Mill, in one of his greatest moments. To understand Levy and Peart's article, you have to understand the divide between Mill and Carlyle, and what it represented in England.
To be continued...