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Thursday, October 01, 2009

little things and the deathgame


World history, Ludwig Schlözer wrote in 1787, was synonymous with the history of “Erfindung” – a word that can mean either discovery or invention.
“Everything that makes for a noble progress or regress among mankind, every new important idea, every new kind of behavior, pregnant with consequences, which the rulers, priests, fashion or accident enduringly bring among a mass of men should be called by us, out of a lack of a more appropriate word, invention.” [67 Weltgeschichte]

Invention or discovery – this, Schlözer thought, was the secret hero of history. Not the discoverer, necessarily: “The inventors (alphzai) themselves are mostly unknown. Often they don’t deserve to be eternalized: than not seldom, simply accident lead a weak head to a discovery, that only later generations learned to use.”

It was also the secret of Europe’s dominance. For small Europe was the ground zero of discovery. Europe, not coincidentally, defined discovery – the verb preeminently described the European act or gaze. America, to use the most obvious instance, may have been seen by millions of its children, and yet it was only when it was seen by Europeans that it was discovered. Thus, like the meat in a nutshell, crack open the word discovery and you find universal history itself before you.

It is a curiously non-heroic heroic history. Schlözer, one of Germany’s truly Enlightened intellectuals, was ruthlessly mocking of an older, heroic history that placed kings merely because they were kings at the center of historical action.

“It goes back to the decadent taste for the deathgames (Mordspielen) of old and new man-murderers, named heros! Lets not rejoice any longer in the smoking war histories of conquerors (Eroberer), that is, over the passionate story of these evil doers who have lead nations by the nose! But for the present believe that the still musing of a genius and the soft virtue of a wise man has brought about greater revolutions than the storms of the greatest bloodthirsty tyrant; and that many happier sorites have ornamented the world more than the fists of millions of warriors have desolated it.”

Given this shift in the emphasis on what history – world history – is about, it isn’t surprising that Schlözer wants us to see the “little things” as the great ones: “… the discovery of fire and of glass, carefully recounted, and the advent of smallpox, of brandy, of potatoes in our part of the world, shouldn’t be left unremarked, and so one shouldn’t be ashamed to take more notice of the exchange of wool for linen in our clothing than to seriously and purposefully deal with the dynasties of Tze, Leang, and Tschin.”

Schlözer’s separation of the ‘little things that one shouldn’t be ashamed of noticing’ and the deathgames of the tyrants would not, of course, survive the scrutiny of a master of world history like Marx. He would notice that deathgames are ingrained in those little things, and those little things are engrained in the deathgames. We kidnap Africans to raise sugar cane to make rum to intoxicate the sailors who kidnap Africans. This circle of biota, human bodies, taste buds, brain cells, and money can be named circulation, lightly lifting up the name given by Harvey to the movement of blood in the body. Looked at, as Fielding did (whose Enquiry uses the word circulation to discuss London “life”), one sees that a creation story that separates the liquids and the solids won’t do. In a sense, the Fielding of the Journal to London, being eased of the deathgame at play in his body by being drained of his built up liquids, is an emblem of the monster-London he depicts in the Enquiry, where the solids – the solid division of the classes, recognized in the law statutes he cites that go back to Richard I – are melting under the “torrent” of currency, and the liquids – the circulation of traffic in the street – are solidifying under the ambush of robbers.

15 comments:

Red Maistre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Red Maistre said...

Hobbes, I think, was more canny than Schlozer, in that he recognized the dynamic interplay of hard power and it's play of position and the liquid dynamics of social libido. Hence his taking the name of Leviathan for his classic work, the beast of the sea whose skin is like iron; not to mention the merging of the organic and the metallic in the image of the mechanical body politic.

roger said...

I agree - surely Schloezer is no Hobbes! But he gets a lot from the Edinbrgh Enlightenment writers who'd absorbed Hobbes (to some extent), and I like it that he sees the importance of what he calls the little things, even if he does apply the tropes of Voltairian satire to the actions of Kings. I think Hobbes did write an official history, didn't he? I'm not looking things up this evening. Just gonna wing it. To say another kind thing about Schloezer: he also wrote an essay about using statistics in history, which is pretty bold for 1789.

Red Maistre said...

Hobbess did write a history called Behemoth: the history of the causes of the civil wars of England
Not to mention the translation of the Peloponnesian War of Thucydides.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Poor spelling, e.g. "lead" for "led", "heros" for "heroes", etc. Also, the sailors did not kidnap the Africans, they bought them in a chain of trade from other Africans (or sometimes Arabs) who had.

roger said...

Sorry, mr. Lawrence, about the spelling mistakes. But on the kidnapping front, you are all wet. Try taking a kidnapping victim into your own custody. Inform the police. See what they charge you with.

roger said...

And, just so you don't try to do some semantic wiggle, let's look at the Australian criminal code: Article 332: " Any person who forcibly takes or detains another with intent to compel that other person to work for him against his will is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for seven years. "

I really dislike the apologetics for kidnapping, here, Mr. Lawrence. The quibble, while not being true, is morally deaf and blind. This was kidnapping under any real meaning of the word, a meaning defined in legal code, if not in your own private dictionary. Plus we can throw in murder, robbery assault and the rest of it.

From Pitman's history of the British West Indies:

"London in 1725 sent out to Africa 87 vessels carrying from 100 to 600 slaves each 26,440 in all Bristol the same year cleared 63 vessels each carrying 150 to 450 slaves or 16,950 in all 23 Liverpool in 1743 had 55 vessels in the trade each carrying 100 to 450 slaves in all 15,400 In 1749 the same port sent out 70 ships for 23,200 negroes 25 Bristol in 1749 had decreased its African trade to 47 ships and 16,640 slaves."

Every time a slave vessel left London, it was going on a kidnapping expedition. It was going to rob. It was going to murder. It was going to rape. Period.

P.M.Lawrence said...

While stealing and receiving stolen goods are both offences, they are not the same thing. The same applies to distinguishing enslaving from slave trading, and only the former may properly be equated with kidnapping. At an extreme, some people did (and still do) buy slaves in order to free them; the faulty categorisation would even make that kidnapping.

You can call that "some semantic wiggle" if you like, but pointing out accurately that it is an offence no more shows that it is kidnapping than "a penny is a coin, a shilling is a coin, therefore a penny is a shilling" is correct logic. Nor would anybody but the most tunnel visioned construe accuracy in description as apologetics.

Bluntly, you don't know what you are talking about, and your combination of repeated assertion and the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion (ignoratio elenchi) does nothing to support your position.

roger said...

Mr. Lawrence, please, stop. This is baseless nonsense. You are making a distinction that exists neither in law nor in practical life. If I pay x to go out and kidnap some people for me, I am a kidnapper, in law and in ordinary language. Your distinction is morally bogus, and semantically false and obtuse. Show me a single case, in English law, where a person who paid for another person to be abducted wasn't charged, himself, with abduction. It really is beneath arguing about, since you seemingly think you can ratiocinate your own laws. Sorry, until you become your own nation, that isn't the case. As a matter of fact, it is stunningly easy to see how the British defined kidnapping. Here's the British kidnapping act of 1872, passed, to prohibit the enslavement of Polynesian laborers. And guess how they defined kidnapping?

First, the preface to the act:
"WHEREAS criminal outrages by British subjects upon natives of islands in the Pacific Ocean not being in Her Majesty's dominions nor within the jurisdiction of any civilized power have of late much prevailed and increased and it is expedient to make further provision for the prevention and punishment of such outrages Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same as follows:

After which comes a list of conditions, followed by:

If a British subject commits any of the following offences that is to say i Decoys a native of any of the aforesaid islands for the purpose of importing or removing such native into any island or place other than that in which he was at the time of the commission of such offence or carries away confines or detains any such native for the purpose aforesaid without his consent proof of which consent shall lie on the party accused
2 Ships embarks receives detains or confines or assists in shipping embarking receiving detaining or confining for the purpose aforesaid a native of any of the aforesaid islands on board any vessel either on the high seas or elsewhere without the consent of such native proof of which consent shall lie on the party accused 3 Contracts for the shipping embarking receiving detaining or confining on board any vessel for the purpose aforesaid any such native without his consent proof of which consent shall lie on the party accused 4 Fits out mans navigates equips uses employs lets or takes on freight or hire any vessel or commands or serves or is on board any such vessel with intent to commit or that any one on board such vessel should commit any of the offences above enumerated 5 Ships lades receives or puts on board or contracts for the shipping lading receiving or putting on board of any vessel money goods or other articles with the intent that they should be employed or knowing that they will be employed in the commission of any of the offences above enumerated shall for each offence be guilty of felony..."

I'm not sure why I am even arguing, this is such silly nonsense. Kidnapping is exactly as that act says, and has always been so in common sense and law. Nobody, but nobody, has ever applied the notion of receiving stolen goods to people. It is, in fact, not even something I think you believe. You know, language is not a matter of making up definitions up ex nihilo.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Now who is being obtuse? I suggest you read up on the activities of the Redemptionists to see that sometimes the distinction matters. Or, if you wish to look at precedents from England, see the similar activities of Henry Smith's charity.

As a measurable fact, consider that in the early days of the slave trade - which were well over by John Newton of "Amazing Grace"'s time, when the tail had started to wag the dog - that trade actually reduced human suffering by buying men who would have been routinely killed as bycatch since the local demand for slaves was only for women and children to boost tribal strength. Mostly, of course, the trade fuelled the enslaving and caused harm - but the mere fact that this was not always the case shows that the distinction is material.

As you point out, "language is not a matter of making up definitions up ex nihilo", and it is an abuse of language to fail and refuse to distinguish between enslaving and trafficking in or keeping slaves. If the law had not made distinctions of this sort, it would not have banned them separately and distinctly at different times and places.

roger said...

Reduced suffering? Really?
I have a hard time believing you actually believe that. I'm thinking that maybe you are making a joke - like, it was actually the Judische police who rounded up the transports in Warsaw, so actually we can't really really say the Jews were murdered by anybody but themselves. Suicide it was.

Please, stop while you are ahead.

roger said...

And... obviously, there would have been no slave trade, no "catchment" - disgusting term - if there wasn't the European slave traders. Or is it your contention, Mr. Lawrence, to complete the comedy turn you seem determined to perform, that the African kings would hsve done preceisely what they did without the Slave ships, and that those ships, by God's very white white mercy, appeared there - like humanitarian angels - to transport a population of slaves gthat the kings were just aching to accumulate.

No, this is to argue at an imbecile level. The slavers were mass murderers. At least 8 million died in those centuries. THey were kidnapped, as a law that was less colorblind, in the 1870s, recognized. They were murdered raped and robbed. The Europeans were inhuman monsters, and anything done to repair the system they had set up and nurtured for three centuries in the nineteenth century was done because they could rob a different way. There's no excuse for this crime, and to conceal it under some bogus sense of humanitarianism defies all descriptions of hypocrisy and moral ignorance. Surely the plea of humanitarianism can always be applied - wasn't Stalin trying to avert the starvation of the Soviet cities in the thirties? We should look at what he did in the Ukraine, where the peasants burned their own crops - like those African kings, just being so so inhumane - as a charitable treatment.

But I don't have to mock, as there are few people left in the world who'd accept that revolting apologetic for kidnapping,murder, assault, rape and robbery.

P.M.Lawrence said...

RG, this is an area in which you have substituted received wisdom for actual knowledge. Rather than go and check, you are simply making the same assertions over and over again.

For instance, '...obviously, there would have been no slave trade, no "catchment" - disgusting term - if there wasn't the European slave traders' is a no doubt inadvertent bait and switch. The whole point at issue is that you are conflating the catching with the trading. Obviously there would have been no trading - but there very definitely was a lot of catching, even before the traders, though not so much as there was once the trade added fuel to it.

"Or is it your contention, Mr. Lawrence, to complete the comedy turn you seem determined to perform, that the African kings would hsve done preceisely what they did without the Slave ships, and that those ships, by God's very white white mercy, appeared there - like humanitarian angels - to transport a population of slaves gthat the kings were just aching to accumulate".

The typos suggest that you have generated more indignation than you can comfortably contain.

Caricature and misrepresent it as you will (and as you have done), the actual historical fact of the matter is, as is recorded (go and check), that tribal raids - not done at such a high level as the kings - were endemic even before the traders arrived. These were aimed at bringing in women and children to strengthen the captors' own tribes, and men were routinely killed; and the tribes were indeed aching to do just that. When the trade started, just for the first few decades, it incidentally rather than humanitarianly saved some of those. After the trade was well under way - that is, for most of its history - it fuelled additional raiding and made suffering worse. Nevertheless, it briefly improved things. Even after the trade was stopped, the old pattern continued with its combination of enslaving women and children and massacring men; Burton describes this in his account of Dahomey.

"The Europeans were inhuman monsters, and anything done to repair the system they had set up and nurtured for three centuries in the nineteenth century was done because they could rob a different way".

They were, in fact, very human, and to fail to recognise these evils as something ordinary is to fail to prepare against them. There is also much factual inaccuracy there, since the Quakers (for instance) deliberately introduced cocoa production in an attempt to provide an alternative cash crop for West Africans, from humanitarian motives in their case.

"There's no excuse for this crime, and to conceal it under some bogus sense of humanitarianism defies all descriptions of hypocrisy and moral ignorance".

I entirely agree, so you shouldn't raise this straw man which encourages that. First, I never once suggested humanitarian motives for the slave traders, just that the trade was demonstrably not part and parcel of the enslaving because it did at times serve - quite incidentally, and not at all deliberately - to mitigate it. Second, you persist in making the wrong categorisation. That slave trading was a crime in the ordinary sense is not in dispute; that it in se and per se was the particular crime of kidnapping is plain wrong. I used the analogy of receiving stolen goods and theft to try to illustrate the important distinction.

You don't have to mock, because you have nothing to mock but your own wilfully ignorant misrepresentation of my accurate description of genuine evils.

roger said...

P.L.: “this is an area in which you have substituted received wisdom for actual knowledge. Rather than go and check, you are simply making the same assertions over and over again.”

No. I have actually quoted evidence. You have quoted none. If you had, through the revelation of the spirits – which is apparently where you get your evidence – explained that 2 plus 2 equals 5, I would say no, it equals four. Then I’d say it again. And again. This is, of course, as simple. You evidently have either not a clue as to what kidnapping is, or the nature of the slave trade in Africa, or – which I think is more likely – you are substituting an old, racist colonial attitude for real history.

PL: “The whole point at issue is that you are conflating the catching with the trading. Obviously there would have been no trading - but there very definitely was a lot of catching, even before the traders, though not so much as there was once the trade added fuel to it.”

Again, you provide absolutely zip in terms of evidence. If your point is that there was a slave trade in Africa, which was incited by Arab traders – and here I am generously conceding that you have the slightest idea what you are talking about – well, once again, we are talking about a foreign force using an indigenous elite to capture slaves in order to take them out of Africa or, as I say, kidnap them. Otherwise, no, there was not a lot of catching. Slavery was confined to the needs and customs of raiding cultures. This is a tediously easy point to find references for, but I am tired, Mr. Lawrence, of providing evidence to a man who seems impervious to the “received view” when it conflicts with the sugarplums-dancing-in my-head view.

roger said...

PL: “Caricature and misrepresent it as you will (and as you have done), the actual historical fact of the matter is, as is recorded (go and check), that tribal raids - not done at such a high level as the kings - were endemic even before the traders arrived.”

You do a pretty good job of self caricature here. Again, check it out yourself. It would, in fact, be a good idea, since it is a subject upon which you seem to have done absolutely no research whatsoever. But maybe your research consists of the same kind of reasoning you use to determine that taking a man in chains across the ocean is not kidnapping – analogical reasoning, such as is employed by the scientists on the island of Laputa. I can’t really caricature this enough.

PL: “These were aimed at bringing in women and children to strengthen the captors' own tribes, and men were routinely killed; and the tribes were indeed aching to do just that.”

Nonsense.

PL: “They were, in fact, very human, and to fail to recognise these evils as something ordinary is to fail to prepare against them. There is also much factual inaccuracy there, since the Quakers (for instance) deliberately introduced cocoa production in an attempt to provide an alternative cash crop for West Africans…”
Nonsense again. This time, highly laughable nonsense.
PL: “ … so you shouldn't raise this straw man which encourages that. First, I never once suggested humanitarian motives for the slave traders, just that the trade was demonstrably not part and parcel of the enslaving because it did at times serve - quite incidentally, and not at all deliberately - to mitigate it.”

Again, this is superbly and utterly ignorant. The three centuries of the Atlantic slave trade so far outweighed the deaths attributable to indigenous raiders that this whole argument has a dream like quality. Even the slavers never stooped to this kind of cant. I’m surprised. Of course, you don’t cite a single reference, because, of course, you can’t. When you make up history in your head, the inconvenient thing is, it is hard to find any authorities to agree with you. You really should try to read, perhaps, a book about the slave trade. Try Hugh Thomas’ book, Mr. Lawrence. And please, the idea of the slave traders mitigating the enslaving – that is a sick joke, right? I think it would have made the slavers gape.

To address the only small bit of fact that floats up in your response, the Quakers were a very late factor in the slave trade, and only affected any part of it after around 1750. I’m sure, though, that you are convinced those Quakers were working away, mitigating the horrible acts of African kings, in 1600. Why not? Fantasies should not be bound by mere dates. After all, facts just boringly repeat themselves again and again. What fun is that?