Every generation rewrites its history as if this time it is the final word.
|Every generation rewrites its history as if this time it is the final word.
I keep saying this to acquaintances of mine within the Humanist Ascendancy who cannot resist the temptation to pretend that their vision of the world, their modelling of reality and their values are timeless, universal and unaffected by the forces of history. I try to remind them of the uncomfortable likelihood that nothing is timeless and their turn to drop through the gallows of history will come soon enough, leaving it to others to put their ideological stamp on how the world is perceived, supposed to be and its memory constructed.
If indeed it is true that their vision and modelling is not a temporary construct, but a timeless one, then this edifice should work backwards with the same efficacy as its inevitably triumphant forward march. Thus the all too frequent failures by their historical advocates to peel away the traditionalist film and filters that blinded the masses to the always screamingly self evidently and manifestly obvious, very possibly betrayed an unforgivable lack perspective, poor policy development, insufficient grasp of the fundamental role of these ideas in the historical process and undue tardiness in promoting and coordinating the progressive line.
To be fair I suppose, it is true that dark forces and swinishly cunning powers that be might be able to temporarily conceal the universal facts of life from virtually everyone for a while, but why on earth did it take so long for the light that has always brightly shone to stop being invisible?
Of course there are none so blind as those who do not want to see. But why such obduracy and on such a mass scale? Pearls before swine? Perhaps all but our most recent ancestors were suffering from some kind of idiocy. Really? Perhaps it was just that they were uninformed. But how can anyone be uninformed about a timeless artefact? It really and truly just had to be poor advocacy by people who knew the shining truth but fell down on the job of communicating it.
Had they applied themselves correctly, there would have been mass revelation and we wouldn't have to have been cleaning up after their mistakes in the twentieth century and remembering the millions who were killed as a result of this devastating neglect, incompetence and criminal maladministration by progressive forces since the beginning of civilization.
This came up recently when the wretched American First World War President, Woodrow Wilson, started to get his just desserts (by being dug up from his metaphoric grave, his ghost gibbeted and his statues overthrown) for his racist policies, while President of Princeton university, between 1902-1910.
Why wasn't the rotten fellow overwhelmed at the time by anti racist indignation amongst the staff, administration, students and funding bodies to the university? Why weren't the eugenics classes being boycotted by waves of furious students outraged at the blatantly pseudo scientific blather being sold to them? Where were all the peer reviewed research papers that proved that this was unconscionable racist shit? Why on earth did it take until the 1930s before the hard questions started to get asked? What happened to critical thinking and honest reasoning in the meantime? What went wrong? Why was it left to the generation of Wilson's grandchildren to start to sort out these racist blots on civilization? Where were the bloody progressives when we needed them? Where the blazes were they?
Woodrow Wilson was a classic legacy product of the post Civil War economic/industrial settlement of the slavery issue, the Lincolnesque reinforcement of nominal universal civil rights and belief in economic opportunity for all, and the enduringly rock bottom status of racially distinct freed slave populations.
To continue to varyingly exclude these populations from full application of civil rights entitlements was no more inconsistent at the time than the later Animal Farm slogan that all animals are equal, but some were more equal than others. Socialism was no more immune from the blandishments of inequality as any of the others.
We routinely tolerate enormous inequalities of income and wealth. In Australia in 2013-14, the top 20 per cent of people had five times more income than the bottom 20 per cent, and held 71 times more wealth. We might not like it, but it doesn't send us into an existential and moral crisis. Maybe it should, but it doesn't, any more than it did in regards to African-Americans after the civil war.
The fact was that Wilson, his generation and the ideological legacy that informed their collective consciousness was very significantly different to what now pertains. Just like at any other time, there was a diverse spectrum of views that included some of those which are much more powerful now, but they were relatively marginal then. And they were certainly marginal at Princeton between 1902-1910.
A play like 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' just couldn't have been written in the period just over a century before it appeared as a film in 1967, because it just wouldn't have been amusing or in the least entertaining to the appalled audience. A Negro physician would have been regarded as a bizarre oddity. White audiences would have regarded his suit to marry a high status white woman as viscerally shocking and its prospective success an excruciatingly embarrassing family disgrace.
It could only end in Shakespearean tragedy, with likely everyone who was anyone under 25 winding up dead. Or, if the errant couple were very lucky, they might get one way steerage tickets to Nova Verona in Brazil, plus a modest remittance, paid for by her enraged and humiliated parents to keep them out of the country.
Trying to produce something like that for the stage would have been financially and reputationally suicidal, no matter how bad the ending was.
At least those two rebelliously wilful adolescents, Romeo and Juliet, came from the same ethnic background and powerful social class. Othello may have been from the racially wrong side of the Mediterranean, but at least he was a European army general, which meant that his wife's Venetian family, whether they liked it or not, would have to swallow his Moorishness for the power, prestige and wealth he brought to the marital bed. And neither was he a jumped up ex slave, but a prince no less.
Shakespeare, in his play, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, proved himself a good enough playwright to walk the very fine and at the time risky line between sympathy for Shylock and his predicament, and getting his perfidiously unconscionable Jewish Christ hating money lending pariah comeuppance. He manages to point out the poor treatment of Jews by Christians without offending or threatening his Christian audience, who would be just as happy to see him in the stocks and flogged as a Jewish sympathiser and suspected heretic, as see his play.
As a dramatist, Shakespeare had the good sense to remove his controversial themes to places and times far enough away to make them seem 'exotic' enough to avoid adverse reaction from audiences or 'the authorities'.
Thus if there had been an American playwright prepared to risk writing a late 1850s dramatic version of the later film, it would have had to have been set in Haiti after the revolution, fifty to fifty-five years before. The lives of a French plantation family are spared when the only daughter agrees to marry a black Haitian colonel (at least a colonel for him to be a seriously senior interlocutor, while at the same time young enough to be sexually confronting in his tight fitting military breeches and high heeled cavalry boots).
The mortified parents reluctantly consent. They can hear the firing squads in the background.
With an astute tact and considerable charm, the heroine manages to keep the arrogant victor at bay during their 'engagement', but in the process he gradually falls in love. However, just as she starts to warm to him enough to soften some of the dread in the last days before the marriage is due to take place, he starts to become very ill, as a result of his jealous adjutant secreting a little something into his wine. He wants her for himself.
As the colonel lies dying, he remorsefully asks her forgiveness for forcing her to marry him. He also asks if she would have married him for love, and she answers him with enough passion to convince him that she would have, but enough ambiguity to convince the audience possibly otherwise. (It is open to her to play that a number of different ways, depending on the director's and/or audience's attitudes.)
He is convinced by her protestations of affection and consents to help her and her parents to escape to Louisiana, to make a new life 'amongst their own people'. He and she cannot even kiss goodbye because he doesn't want her to catch his 'sickness'. He entrusts his batman to make the necessary arrangements...
Unfortunately, a couple of hours before the planned escape, the colonel, who being near death and incoherent with fever, inadvertently gives the game away to his young ensign, who is also jealous of him and wants a piece of virginal white flesh for himself, as well. He hastily musters some troops and rushes to cut the escapees off.
As the family and the colonel's batman push a small rowing boat down a tropical beach to meet an armed trading ship waiting off shore, they find themselves betrayed. They manage to get the boat into the water. While the batman furiously rows, the parents shield their daughter from the musket fire coming from the approaching Haitian troops running onto the shore. They die so that she might escape, and with the help of covering canon fire from the ship (that kills the ensign), she and her now wounded rower make it to safety.
As they come on board, amongst the throng that come forward to comfort her and attend to the wounds of her rower, there is the handsome son of plantation neighbours of her now late parents, who she really had hoped to marry. He comfortingly embraces her.....as the ship sails for New Orleans....with the colonel's loyal, brave and bandaged batman, to whom they are forever in debt, and who graciously agrees to become their free servant.
They would still have been playing this one after the civil war and well into the twentieth century, right up to the Second World War, because although the plantation slave system had been broken, the implicit master-servant relationship between the dominant caste and the former slaves was not. Both white southerners and northerners would 'get' the same tense sexual/racial//political frisson at the prospect of inter-racial marriage. They would only be able to entertain it in a place and time sufficiently removed for it not to be too threatening, and where most of the drama is how that prospect never comes to anything, and with a denouement that would leave the caste politics intact.
Like Shakespeare's Shylock, the black interlocutors can be played as lurid racial caricatures, or three dimensional characters with real feelings and the kind of strength of character and frailty as anyone else; challenging, albeit briefly, the racial/ex slave stereotype.
In the end, the remaining Afro-American character continues as a servant, albeit a 'deserving' free man, but he 'knows his real place' in the world. He is at the bottom of the free labour market protected by white 'benefactors' in a patron/protégé relationship typical of a freedman status going back to Roman times. His presence (like the black soldiers of the union army) straddles and resolves the civil war and what it was fought over, well into the future, as does the Haitian setting itself.
In the period after the civil war, the collapse of the plantation system in Haiti becomes a metaphor for the war's outcome, as does the play's ending, with the main protagonists moving into an uncertain future accompanied by free, in places enfranchised, but nevertheless subservient black labour.
And the play also becomes a warning as to just how dire the consequences of real black power might be and a later prompt to using Haiti as an early warning of what any post-colonial African state might turn out to be, émigré or native.
It would have ticked all the ideological boxes in exactly the same way as ‘The Merchant of Venice’ did in its time, as 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' did in a later one.
Such a fiction about a fiction, while it might sound to us like the penny dreadful plot from an obscure early nineteenth century opera/melodrama, it illustrates the extent of the shift necessary for a historian to properly envisage and appreciate the zeitgeist of another period and recognize just how derisory retrospecting history really is, and how close that is to propaganda and the very same sort of stereotyped clichés for which the Stalinist regime was rightly infamous.
Attempting to throw down the statues of Woodrow Wilson is about as irrational and atavistic as the iconoclasm of protestant puritans during the reformation, who made it their business to smash the faces of carved images in churches, because they were 'graven' representatives of a 'false' idolatrous worship.
There are several collateral issues that come out of debunking the universalist pretensions of libertarian humanist 'reality manufacture'. These have major implications for not just the past, but how we regard current issues and the way forward.
The American 'revolution' used the universalist language of the Enlightenment to delegitimize the aristocrat dominated order of British metropolitan society and to galvanize the grass roots Anglo-American colonists with hopes of advancement for all, in a plutocratic system that was in reality substituting an aristocracy of birth with that of wealth.
The revolution was strictly a fight between England and its own colonials, and more particularly, between the interests of colonial and metropolitan capital. The former wasn’t prepared to play the North American branch office any more and just do as it was told. And however revolutionary the flights of rhetoric were, the political traction ended there.
Questions as to the status of West African slave populations thus mostly occurred at the margins, amongst people who were sufficiently naive and/or removed from the economic facts of life to fully believe their own rhetoric. Or, they represented interests whose interests were already inimical to slavery, but whose writ was yet to make itself as widely felt as it later became.
Thomas Jefferson sired a child by his black slave mistress, while he was US ambassador to France in 1790, where he was responsible for helping to draft the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. Unsurprisingly his views on Negroes and slavery were deeply ambiguous, because he was also a major slave owner. And whatever his protestations about the evils of the institution and his plans to ease himself and his fellow owners out of the conundrums created by it, it was the money tied up in slaves that mattered. They were an expensive asset and manumitting them would be a ruinous deletion from their balance sheets. So there were always excellent reasons why, despite ideologically aspirational noises being made, doing anything about it was somehow always just beyond reach.
And while there were some pretty robust debates about that in the revolutionary Congress, no one wanted to take that one to the wire, because no one could afford for the slave owners to defect to the British. They were far too big to put off side. And after the revolution, the question increasingly devolved along state and regional lines, depending on how its economy was evolving, with free labour driven industrial revolution moving events in the North East and slave based plantationism in the south.
Where plantation economy and economic dependency on Negro slaves was institutionalised, ideological beliefs about them bypassed the universal rights enshrined in the constitution. They were replaced with arguments based around racial exceptionalism on the grounds of ‘breeding’, civilizational status and the overwhelming facts of caste dominance. And the kicker was, whether it were white northerners or southerners, those arguments worked just as well whether African Americans were slaves or free labour.
Anyone in any doubt about how powerful and persuasive such beliefs can be need only familiarize themselves with the intractably rotten status of ‘Untouchables’ in India. Releasing that caste from the strictures of its captivity does little to change anything much in practice, or the traditional attitudes towards them, which tend to overlay and reinforce caste with class prejudice, as well.
And in case anyone thinks the notion of 'breeding' wasn't the most commonplace observation at the time (and not necessarily racial), it was central to the traditional notion of aristocracy within the European racial phenotype, which drew heavily on analogous farm and stud species improvement practice. It was a central precept of the later 'science' of eugenics and was deeply inter-connected with Charles Darwin's ideas.
After Jefferson, it would be up to 200 years before anyone would get to read Jared Diamond’s multi-disciplinary 'Guns, Germs and Steel', that gave a decisively nuanced (to us) geo-climatic and plant-animal opportunity explanations as to why West Africans were the slaves and not their European masters.
One just cannot judge men like Jefferson on the basis of the present status of humanist libertarian ideas and expect to make any real sense of what was going on at the time.
In the end, the notion of a slave caste became problematic not so much for moral reasons as economic ones, as the North-East United States intensified the hydrocarbonization and mechanization of its main industries. The union almost collapsed after the Mexican war in 1845, over the issue of whether the new territories would be free or slave states. While the mainly northern abolitionists were able to quite successfully propagandise these tensions, the compromise that was hammered out to delay confronting the issue was very bad for the abolitionist cause. And the reason was that there was infinitely more at stake than the status of Afro-Americans.
Industrialism and plantationism were at profound loggerheads as to how the US economy was going to unfold over the next century. Labour intensive slave economy could only work at cross purposes to capital intensive manufacturing. The US would never become the industrial power it should be with a slave economy in tow.
Industrial capital did not want to tie up unnecessary wealth in 'inefficient', liability intensive and 'inflexible' slave ownership, that would be much better allocated to capital equipment. Free labour meant ease of hiring and firing and no responsibilities towards it except to pay for hours worked. If 'free' workers became unsatisfactory, surplus to requirement, sick, injured or too old, it wasn't the employer's problem; out the door and onto the street with them.
Slave owners had to provide housing, clothing and food. They also had to worry about health and safety, because the slave was expensive to replace, was worthless damaged goods if injured permanently and would need medical attention if sick. Old and infirm slaves couldn't just be thrown on the streets or killed at the end of their working life.
If the cotton industry fell flat for any reason and some slaves became surplus to requirements, they would have to be sold very likely at a loss, because all the other cotton plantations would be doing the same. Or the owner had to hang onto them over the lean period, at a loss. There was no such thing as slave unemployment.
And although they generally got a small amount of pocket money, they were not allowed to buy alcohol, and such as they were allowed to drink by their masters or mistresses, was procured by them for special occasions. Thus alcoholism among slaves was as rare as it was rife amongst free labour, with all the chronic domestic disorder that it brought in its wake. So slave domestic relationships tended to be more stable, even allowing for the risk of being sold separately, which was normally (except for the large forced migration south to new lands after the Louisiana purchase in the early nineteenth century) relatively low, because the owner had an interest in the children they produced that would only mature when they were able to do adult labour.
Industrial capital needed all that welfarist supervision and involvement in the lives of their employees like a hole in the head! And why would they educate their workforce if they could get the state to do it? And if alcoholism became a problem, get someone else.
But at an even more profound level, plantation economies would interrupt modern industrialism in the way that semi feudal relations of production always have, whether talking about the estancias in central/South America or the great feudal estates of the Russian steppes, or even the great Latifundia of the Roman period. Until 1861 in Russia, buying any large landholding meant buying villages and the villagers as well. Such heavy investment in slave/serf populations starved capital markets.
Slave labour was just lead in the national balance sheet when what was wanted was a freed up, low liability and expendable labour resource in the profit and loss accounts.
Capital would never thrive if having to work around the inflexible and static interests of slave/semi slave labour ownership. Modern technique and equipment intensive agriculture that would create the surpluses that would generate the capital for urban industries just wouldn't be there. It would be the province of rentiers resting on income gathered by bailiff/slave masters, rather than capitalists thriving on organizational efficiency, machine intensive investment, increased productivity and production, and the technical/scientific leverages to get it.
Free labour that was paid by hours worked was a powerful incentive to frugal use and to exploit machinery to leverage its value by as many multiples as possible. Slave tabor consumed much of the capital that would otherwise be invested in machinery and incentivized trying to maximize value by labour power alone. The Roman world had a very large manufacturing sector, but slave labour kept it as a labour intensive system, which meant mechanized capital never got up. Once steam power became available, mechanized capitalism would inevitably steam roll the slave system.
The ideological arguments became propaganda narratives that bore little relationship to the economic imperatives that drove them, or even what actually happened to free or slave labour, concretely. It would have been possible, if anyone had been of a mind to, to create a counter narrative to that of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', around the conditions of labour in industrial cities, for black Americans who had escaped the slave ‘nightmare’.
The story would have been about a black ingénue who belongs to a decent enough master, but who is inveigled to escape to the North with an acquaintance who introduces him to abolitionist sympathisers. They paint a picture of freedom, equality and justice that he only vaguely understands, but it sounds so marvellous, so golden and so full of promise, he is transported into another world of excitement and anticipation. He doesn't mind his master as masters go, but the voices have it, and against his better judgement, he goes north.
What he eventually finds in New York is some initial support from the abolitionist church, but the experience gradually turns very sour. It is tough for white folks there, but doubly tough if they're black. The most dangerous, hardest and most meanly paid work, dished out by the worst employers, is reserved for them.
He finds himself in deepening poverty, even when the work is there and even deeper on the church charity, if it isn't. He drifts into 'bad' company, which means alcohol and enough theft to pay for it, or the rent. The charity stops. His character, health and work prospects deteriorate.
The woman who he had a one night stand with becomes pregnant, but he is no position to become a father, so he takes no interest and she disappears....Or perhaps they share a room, but poverty and despair destroy what little there was of a relationship. They fall to drunken quarrelling and he beats her so badly, she prems the now dead child all over the kitchen floor. He flees, leaving the black neighbours to clean up the mess and nurse her in the hope she doesn't die. The police don't care and no one can afford a doctor.
He reflects on what would have happened to him if he had done that back 'home'. There, healthy Negro women and children have value. In the cities of the free, they are worthless.
On Christmas Eve, a couple of years later, his old master happens upon him while walking to a local business establishment. He almost trips over a protruding leg and an empty moonshine jar, which is sticking out from a prostrate body propped between some overflowing bins, waiting for emptying at the end of an alleyway. It takes the pedestrian a few moments to recognize the semi comatose and gibbering wreck of his old slave.
The old master has two choices. Which would be the most salutary for propaganda purposes? Does he decide that his now emaciated, raddled and alcoholic 'investment' is now a complete write off and that there is no point in taking any further interest, other than to let him freeze and/or starve to death? Or does he show some 'mercy' and 'compassion', get him 'home' and try to nurse the prodigal SOB back to health, at vast expense, sufficiently to later give him a good thrashing for the trouble and loss he has caused? Or he might even spare him that because perhaps he has been chastened enough.
Charles Dickens would have got him into the charitable Christmas spirit, but Dickens was in England.....where they like their bourgeois sentimentality on the treacly side....
And then he has an absolute stroke of genius.... He espies a photographer touting for Christmas business outside a department store over the road, and decides to get him to take some pictures of the wretch, that he can take back home to show the local community (and their slaves) what can happen to runaways in the land of the free.
The photographer finishes his work and departs. The old master takes a hard look at the man lying in the gutter. The well dressed southern gentleman is not a bad character. He understands the basic decencies, even for undeserving and worthless runaway slaves. He turns on his heel, pauses, reflects on the prospects for alcoholic rehabilitation and thinks better of his better instincts....by paying a carrier to take his former slave to the outside of the local abolitionist church...and leave him there, for them to deal with.
"If he freezes to death on their front porch, it will be on their consciences, not mine"....He pins a pencil note on the drunk that succinctly tells the do-gooders who this black man is and what he is doing there on their front porch. He puts some Christmas biscuits and chocolates in his pocket, and sends him on his way with the carrier, then walks on to conduct his business, with a spring in his step.
He has done the right thing; justice served, charity sufficient unto the day, and time to pick up the photographic object lesson for back home on the morrow.
The carrier duly transports the drunk to the agreed destination, but takes the biscuits and chocolate. "Wasted on a nigger", he mutters, as he drives away, savouring the almost frozen chocolate, as it melts on his tongue...
"Wasn't that a nice story children?"......"Yes Miss"....
"The stories that we make up about ourselves aren't just fairy tales. We make them up to tell us where we came from, where we are and where we are going. We select the information sets and tweak the data to construct the models that generate both our apocrypha and central canon; our myths and our 'histories'...don't we children?”... “Yes Miss...”
But perhaps the most telling critique of late bourgeois democratic ideology comes after the fall of the world order that constructed the world view of Woodrow Wilson's generation. Just as the moral world view of the slave abolitionists bore very little relation to the economic realities that actually drove events leading to the civil war, or the subsequent settlement, the post World War 2 libertarian human rights agenda bears an equally tangential and subsidiary relationship to the unfolding of indulgence capitalism and the recruitment of the economic templates of all out war production run by war machines, and their conversion to all out production war, run by marketing machines.
The nuts and bolts of this massive transformation were scarcely visible, except in innocuous terms like 'the consumer society', where 'liberation' conflated anti-colonial and anti racist ideology with that of the ‘liberation’of the porn shop, and the degoverenancing of the social commons in favour of the proud and omnipotent sponsors, their omniscient researchers and their omnipresent marketing and public relations voices; turning citizen individuals with some integrity and individual autonomy into the most helpless and hapless creatures of the most vulnerable and susceptible kind; totally at the mercy of their desires, whims and the fantasies, suggested to them by the relentlessly internalized voices; fantasies, that became wants, that became needs, that became rights, because the customer is always right.
This systematic but silent running existential annihilation of individuals and their social and reproductive commons started coming seriously on stream as the children born after the Second World War started to grow up. And as bad luck would have it, at the very same time, Martin Luther King, that giant of the Christian tradition that had kept the body and soul of African-American communities in one piece through terrible times was heard to say, "Free at last!! Free at last! Free at last!
The Divine Joker laughed. 'They're turning off their defences!"
Beelzebub looked at The Joker and sniffed, "Life without boundaries it is then; the most abject and profound slavery there is. And best of all, the victims have no idea what has happened to them. We, their 'new' masters now 'facilitate' for the living rather than coerce the dead. 'Virtue' is now giving in to temptation and we just keep benignly extracting value until there's nothing left. We have moved from eternal damnation to much more cost effective lifetime only contracts. And if the 'customers' (we no longer talk about the damned) want more, we can put them onto our legacy Childminder Rate, for their descendants to deal with. And when it comes to inflicting the very small print agreed conditions of misery, they self inflict with an alacrity that old style demons just cannot match, and at no cost to us..."
Mephistopheles chipped in ruefully, "And to think that I used to spend a whole human lifetime trying to get one man to sell his soul....Now entire populations serve themselves up on a plate, as soon as they are old enough to hear the calling voices and know there is nothing left to stop them answering...
The Pied Piper piped up from the minstrel gallery, "The children love the magic mountain. Now it's their home, they never grow up, even as they still grow old".
Belial smirked and then spoke..."They surround themselves with the glittering prizes of the market place, and we get the glittering prize of the fortress of the imagination; the real estate we have always wanted; their heartland...And now they live in dangerous and toxic slums, where nothing works...except their fantasies."
And Gadreel answered, "It is always the ones most and longest under siege and already weakened by hunger that come first. They have fewest means to resist. There isn't the residual fat left to sustain them for a little longer. Their desolation is the fastest and most complete of all."
Wormwood then added, "They really thought our terms were so generous, The feast we prepared before their walls was the final straw that broke them. And the more they ate, the hungrier they became."
Beelzebub summarized, "Then The rich and powerful will inherit short selling and their children will shoot up only the best...."
The joker was weeping, but was it with mirth or sadness? or both? The joker saw a kind of normality but it was torn to pieces inside.
Recently made redundant angels were passing as this conversation floated upon the heavenly ether. They chanted the mantras of virtue, but they were crestfallen. “Freedom without restraint or moral agency is a Trojan horse. Rights without obligations quickly become consumer entitlements. Excuses become the measure of justification and fairness. Love degenerates into narcissism. Individuals morph into egos. The business of reproduction is reduced to sexuality. Satisfaction is mistaken for happiness. Produce and consume enough junk and you become junk.”
An existential desert is not immediately obvious. Its noxious impacts don't seem to have clear causes and their progress is silent. Its poverty does not appear in the accounts. But nonetheless, it will lay an entire society waste, starting from the margins and working in. At least fifty percent of the net wealth of an individual, their community and the wider society is held in that space; the social and existential software that gives meaning, value and coherence to life worth living in.
King thought he was bringing traditional black religious leadership, its congregations and secular hangers on to a new level of virtue and civil engagement, which would deliver all African-Americans empowering and righteous solutions, to give them the chance to make good on the same terms as everyone else. But like his abolitionist predecessors, he had no understanding of what it was that was giving him traction. He made the mistake that almost all ideologues make, of imagining it was entirely the justice of his ideas and the integrity that powered them, that would make the difference. They didn't.
The anti-Vietnam/imperialist and civil rights struggle conflated with a very rapid deconstruction of traditional authority and governance of any type, racist or anything else (including traditional social, familial and democratic institutions) and substituted them with a semi submerged corporate state and its culture of disinhibited conformity, that would turn citizens into hyper responsive consumers of any indulgence that they could be sold, whether they could afford it or not, whether its impact might destroy them, or whether it would undermine the social commons that glued them and their communities together.
Young people turned on 'The Pigs' with the same alacrity as they turned on with drugs.
The diminished civil authorities gave in. It might not have been peace for any of the other protagonists, but young American customers got the peace they wanted. The affluent white kids could turn on, tune in and drop out, but they had enough family and social connection to carry them through that as 'just a stage they were going through'. The African-American kids were not so lucky.
African America got civil rights just as the corporate state was discounting them. They got voting enfranchisement when it was starting to cease to matter. American industry started to feel the effects of Japanese competition and the industrial jobs that black Americans were heavily concentrated in started to go overseas. The white kids just moved up the education ladder into the expanding services economy. The black ones weren't so lucky. Tertiary education is very expensive in the US and unless a kid is scholarship material, it's hard for working class whites, and harder still if they are black, to get to a college or university.
But the real killer that King just didn't see coming was the speed with which religious leadership, protection, encouragement, moral modelling and accountability and mentorship within a congregation, could be demolished. The emerging culture of disinhibited conformity that came with a rapidly expanding and increasingly sophisticated consumer economy did more damage to churches and their congregations in ten years, especially amongst the young demographic, than fifty years of very robust socialist hostility to Christianity in the Soviet Union.
A marginalized community needs every skerrick of bolstering that it can muster to pass scratch and keep its children safe. And whatever one thinks of its specific cosmology, three quarters of what religion delivers, when it is working properly, is securing the system of social reproduction. And while one might regard an all seeing deity that takes an active interest in each one of us as a bit ideologically quaint, that eye in the sky very tangibly assists in keeping the faithful on the straight and narrow. At least something might hold them to account for their actions, one day.
The effects of that took a while longer to find their way into the more vulnerable sections of the white community and little longer still for its more affluent and educated parts. But the effects on black society were immediate and disastrous. When the already marginalized get such an important intangible prop pulled out, it is the difference between sinking and staying afloat. And the victims are all the more victimized because they really think they are free agents and the masters and mistresses of their fate, even if they are little more than marionettes controlled by forces they cannot see and understand even less. Gangs, guns and drugs seem so empowering to the picaresque flotsam that exists on the garbage dumps below the existential cliffs of the valley of the shadow of marginalisation!
Messaging systems of socialization that do not come from the omnipresent proud sponsors don't get deleted. They just do not get any updates or support, and the users who try to enforce some protective disciplines to keep their site going, somehow or other keep getting blocked or edged off the road. When Maggie Thatcher said there was no such thing as 'society', that wasn't quite what she meant, but that is how it came out in the wash. And when it came to that, black America got to be one of the first cabs off the rank, to see their society dissolve in front them.
The obvious signs of social distress, chaos, dysfunction and massive prison populations are symptomatic of a society in free fall. In The Depression of the 1930s, in conditions infinitely more economically difficult than anything happening today, black American society was still able to function relatively coherently, although not as well as whites or other non white migrant populations. Not any more. Since the 1960s, all the indicators of social disaster have gone through the roof. (For a useful summary of the phenomenon see: http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Dwyer/Crime_and_Poverty,_Part_II.shtml )
Black African migrants who come to America get treated almost as if they were white in terms of job opportunity, money, home location, schooling and social standing. It is a measure of the terrible reputational damage African American society has suffered, as a result of the chaos that now besets it.
To suggest that this denouement is merely the result of 'racism' is not just ignorance of the awful facts, but a lame attempt by post-Marxist neo leftist wets to avoid some responsibility for their participation and complicity in the relentless incremental take-down of non market socialization, by systematically discrediting its authority as ‘rights impinging’, 'repressive' 'out of touch', interfering' and 'humourlessly killjoyingly anti-fun'.
They have promoted a culture of rights without responsibility or moral agency or training in the basic decencies to interrupt and destroy familial and community capacity to intervene with its children, robustly if necessary, to ensure that they grow into mature and responsible adults and pass those inestimable qualities to their own children.
And they have infiltrated and exploited welfare agencies that are already struggling with the chaos brought about by third generation laissez-faire inter-generational mismanagement, to enforce the imaginary right of 'consumerbabelets' to stand up to their parents. That may not be the explicit intent, but certainly it and the threat of it have the same dreadful effect as Mao’s attempt to suborn China’s children and set them against their elders. Mao died and the Cultural Revolution died with him, but in the west, the revolution goes on, like some incurable infantile plague.
This execrable behaviour of social libertarians was a collaboration with the corporate state to introduce its system of disinhibited conformity that now controls mass populations with far more effect and reliability than the traditional totalitarian systems that depend on secret police, intimidation and state sponsored violence to enforce their writ. And in the process, they have turned a human social ecosystem into a desert, in the same way the corporate libertarians are doing in the larger natural one.
There is a lot of existential and social rage bubbling under the surface about this disgraceful state of affairs, but it lacks effective political focus because it has been trapped into an old style reactionary right wing cul-de-sac that in the absence of analysis, is difficult to escape. Driving a stake through the liberal myths that shroud the heart of this ideological incubus is as important in its own way as preventing the final destruction of our natural ecosystems. Social and market libertarians, while they quarrel like the Church and Crown of another era and regime, are made of the same rotten ideological stuff and fundamentally serve the same collective ends as their predecessors did.
Once we get this kind of analysis in place, the world becomes much clearer. The baloney evaporates and a rational way forward appears. We do not have to go on being made into mystified dorkasaurs who keep having the carpet humiliatingly pulled out from under us every time we futilely and apparently irrationally try to assert ourselves in ways that do not suit the existing powers that be.
“And don’t those inflexible ‘authoritarians’ look like a bunch of looooozers children?” “Yes Miss!”
Once you know what a sliding carpet is, what its functions are (besides being something to just stand on), who controls its movement and how they do it, you are 50% there. It is a bit like knowing that is not smart to stand on trap doors with an attached noose round your neck.
In the next half century, a lot of bluff will need to be called, followed by some very firm behaviour, underlined by some very resolute intolerance of baloney. And the most grateful beneficiaries will be those who have been most laid waste by the wanton and irresponsible libertarianism of our times, commercial and civil alike; especially black Americans.
Black American communities will hardly know themselves once they get the hang of not being bamboozled. And it won't be the weight of the legacy of slavery, or the awful status that they have endured since it was commuted to wage labour and then for so many, the desolation of welfare, but the catastrophe that befell them in the last half of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the next, that greeted them in the awful name of 'free at last'.
My only concern is that in the absence of a substantial secular discourse that takes the agenda being laid down here and running with it, a more radical and deeply conservative Islam will have the field all to itself. Once more than just a few black Americans find out how much more coherent and robust their and their family's lives become in the congregation of a movement that hasn't made any compromises with the power of its beliefs, it will be 'on' like a piranha feeding frenzy, even if it is a bit 'seventh century'. Once the punters are in the fold, they won't care. And there won’t be any of that namby pamby forgiveness of sins and Jesus loves you nonsense.
Obedience, or else.......They’ll love it....Slaves to their religion... Masters and mistresses of everything else.
Even though the US economy may get smashed to bits by an enraged environment, politically cantonized by corporate abuse and delusionalism and culturally disintegrating because even the proud sponsors can’t get traction any more, our black brothers and sisters may well get their chance to dominate proceedings for the first time in 500 years.
Martin L King shrugged in his grave...It will not be the Age of Reasonable, but The Wrath of God......