|To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7160)||7/3/2021 1:00:00 AM|
|From: Joachim K|
|A Rollicking Novel for an Age of Absurdity|
JUL 2, 2021 6:00 PM BY ROBERT SPENCER
My latest in PJ Media:
Harking back to the not-too-distant past when education didn’t entirely consist of learning how racist and evil our forefathers were, H. W. Crocker III heads up his latest and arguably most riotous picaresque novel, Armstrong Rides Again!, with the Latin inscription Numquam concedere. That’s “Never concede,” kids, and after Covid-19, the 2020 election, the exaltation of perversion and insanity, the Reichstag Fire incident of January 6, and six months of Biden’s handlers stirring up war, inflation, invasion, and more, it’s a good motto for dissidents to keep in mind. In Armstrong Rides Again!, the chief refuser to concede is none other than George Armstrong Custer himself, who in the novel was not killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn, and is instead making his way through a post-Civil War world that is absurd enough to make our own almost look sane. Custer teams up with another real-life character, the nineteenth-century satirist Ambrose Bierce, and undertakes his travels with help from an Indian scout, Billy Jack, whose name is taken from the eponymous 1971 guilt-manipulation Western, one of the first of a long line of major motion pictures that spread the now all-pervasive mythology of saintly Indians suffering within a rapacious and unfeeling larger American culture.Armstrong Rides Again! is a marvelous antidote to such politically correct fantasies. In this world (as in the real one, though the fact is largely forgotten now), no group has a monopoly on good or evil, and even the most altruistic act is shot through with self-seeking. At the same time, the book is filled with sly social commentary, particularly when Custer makes his way to the fictional Latin American republic of Neustraguano (I’ll leave you to figure out what that one means).
Custer is there to come to the aid of El Caudillo, who lives in “el Palacio Blanco” and is “the hereditary soldier-emperor of Neustraguano; a defender of our nation and its faith,” whose enemies (including “a strange, spiky, herky-jerky figure,” a woman who “looked like a stage witch, perhaps touched with fever”) see him as “an exploiter of its people; defended by superstition!” This woman “works with the Indians on the borderlands. They suffer from a plague. The people wear bags as protection from it.”
A protest against El Caudillo is described by one of its supporters as “a protest for science—and against ignorance as represented by El Caudillo and that cathedral. Our nation’s square should not be dominated by a Church or represented by a monarchy—both relics of a dark, unenlightened past.” The foes of El Caudillo are found even within his government, for when the leader tells Custer how sorry he is that “the most attractive people in Neustraguano never have children,” such that his people, “over time, become uglier and uglier,” Custer notices that “the cabinet officers were rolling their eyes or burying their faces behind their hands.”
Is this beginning to sound familiar?
There is more. Read the rest here.
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|From: Joachim K||7/3/2021 11:16:32 PM|
|The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-DickThe whaler ‘Essex’ was indeed sunk by a whale—and that’s only the beginning.|
The Deadliest Disaster at Sea Killed Thousands, Yet Its Story Is Little-Known. Why?
The Worst Shark Attack in History
Three Centuries After His Beheading, a Kinder, Gentler Blackbeard Emerges
Herman Melville drew inspiration for Moby-Dick from the 1820 whale attack on the Essex. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.
In July of 1852, a 32-year-old novelist named Herman Melville had high hopes for his new novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, despite the book’s mixed reviews and tepid sales. That month he took a steamer to Nantucket for his first visit to the Massachusetts island, home port of his novel’s mythic protagonist, Captain Ahab, and his ship, the Pequod. Like a tourist, Melville met local dignitaries, dined out and took in the sights of the village he had previously only imagined.
And on his last day on Nantucket he met the broken-down 60-year-old man who had captained the Essex, the ship that had been attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in an 1820 incident that had inspired Melville’s novel. Captain George Pollard Jr. was just 29 years old when the Essex went down, and he survived and returned to Nantucket to captain a second whaling ship, Two Brothers. But when that ship wrecked on a coral reef two years later, the captain was marked as unlucky at sea—a “Jonah”—and no owner would trust a ship to him again. Pollard lived out his remaining years on land, as the village night watchman.
Melville had written about Pollard briefly in Moby-Dick, and only with regard to the whale sinking his ship. During his visit, Melville later wrote, the two merely “exchanged some words.” But Melville knew Pollard’s ordeal at sea did not end with the sinking of the Essex, and he was not about to evoke the horrific memories that the captain surely carried with him. “To the islanders he was a nobody,” Melville wrote, “to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered.”
Pollard had told the full story to fellow captains over a dinner shortly after his rescue from the Essex ordeal, and to a missionary named George Bennet. To Bennet, the tale was like a confession. Certainly, it was grim: 92 days and sleepless nights at sea in a leaking boat with no food, his surviving crew going mad beneath the unforgiving sun, eventual cannibalism and the harrowing fate of two teenage boys, including Pollard’s first cousin, Owen Coffin. “But I can tell you no more—my head is on fire at the recollection,” Pollard told the missionary. “I hardly know what I say.”
The trouble for Essex began, as Melville knew, on August 14, 1819, just two days after it left Nantucket on a whaling voyage that was supposed to last two and a half years. The 87-foot-long ship was hit by a squall that destroyed its topgallant sail and nearly sank it. Still, Pollard continued, making it to Cape Horn five weeks later. But the 20-man crew found the waters off South America nearly fished out, so they decided to sail for distant whaling grounds in the South Pacific, far from any shores.
To restock, the Essex anchored at Charles Island in the Galapagos, where the crew collected sixty 100-pound tortoises. As a prank, one of the crew set a fire, which, in the dry season, quickly spread. Pollard’s men barely escaped, having to run through flames, and a day after they set sail, they could still see smoke from the burning island. Pollard was furious, and swore vengeance on whoever set the fire. Many years later Charles Island was still a blackened wasteland, and the fire was believed to have caused the extinction of both the Floreana Tortoise and the Floreana Mockingbird.
Essex First Mate Owen Chase, later in life. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Getty Images.
By November of 1820, after months of a prosperous voyage and a thousand miles from the nearest land, whaleboats from the Essex had harpooned whales that dragged them out toward the horizon in what the crew called “Nantucket sleigh rides.” Owen Chase, the 23-year-old first mate, had stayed aboard the Essex to make repairs while Pollard went whaling. It was Chase who spotted a very big whale—85 feet in length, he estimated—lying quietly in the distance, its head facing the ship. Then, after two or three spouts, the giant made straight for the Essex, “coming down for us at great celerity,” Chase would recall—at about three knots. The whale smashed head-on into the ship with “such an appalling and tremendous jar, as nearly threw us all on our faces.”
The whale passed underneath the ship and began thrashing in the water. “I could distinctly see him smite his jaws together, as if distracted with rage and fury,” Chase recalled. Then the whale disappeared. The crew was addressing the hole in the ship and getting the pumps working when one man cried out, “Here he is—he is making for us again.” Chase spotted the whale, his head half out of water, bearing down at great speed—this time at six knots, Chase thought. This time it hit the bow directly under the cathead and disappeared for good.
The water rushed into the ship so fast, the only thing the crew could do was lower the boats and try fill them with navigational instruments, bread, water and supplies before the Essex turned over on its side.
Pollard saw his ship in distress from a distance, then returned to see the Essex in ruin. Dumbfounded, he asked, “My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?”
“We have been stove by a whale,” his first mate answered.
Another boat returned, and the men sat in silence, their captain still pale and speechless. Some, Chase observed, “had no idea of the extent of their deplorable situation.”
The men were unwilling to leave the doomed Essex as it slowly foundered, and Pollard tried to come up with a plan. In all, there were three boats and 20 men. They calculated that the closest land was the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands, and Pollard wanted to set off for them—but in one of the most ironic decisions in nautical history, Chase and the crew convinced him that those islands were peopled with cannibals and that the crew’s best chance for survival would be to sail south. The distance to land would be far greater, but they might catch the trade winds or be spotted by another whaling ship. Only Pollard seemed to understand the implications of steering clear of the islands. (According to Nathaniel Philbrick, in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, although rumors of cannibalism persisted, traders had been visiting the islands without incident.)
Thus they left the Essex aboard their 20-foot boats. They were challenged almost from the start. Saltwater saturated the bread, and the men began to dehydrate as they ate their daily rations. The sun was ravaging. Pollard’s boat was attacked by a killer whale. They spotted land—Henderson Island—two weeks later, but it was barren. After another week the men began to run out of supplies. Still, three of them decided they’d rather take their chances on land than climb back into a boat. No one could blame them. And besides, it would stretch the provisions for the men in the boats.
By mid-December, after weeks at sea, the boats began to take on water, more whales menaced the men at night, and by January, the paltry rations began to take their toll. On Chase’s boat, one man went mad, stood up and demanded a dinner napkin and water, then fell into “most horrid and frightful convulsions” before perishing the next morning. “Humanity must shudder at the dreadful recital” of what came next, Chase wrote. The crew “separated limbs from his body, and cut all the flesh from the bones; after which, we opened the body, took out the heart, and then closed it again—sewed it up as decently as we could, and committed it to the sea.” They then roasted the man’s organs on a flat stone and ate them.
Over the coming week, three more sailors died, and their bodies were cooked and eaten. One boat disappeared, and then Chase’s and Pollard’s boats lost sight of each other. The rations of human flesh did not last long, and the more the survivors ate, the hungrier they felt. On both boats the men became too weak to talk. The four men on Pollard’s boat reasoned that without more food, they would die. On February 6, 1821—nine weeks after they’d bidden farewell to the Essex—Charles Ramsdell, a teenager, proposed they draw lots to determine who would be eaten next. It was the custom of the sea, dating back, at least in recorded instance, to the first half of the 17th century. The men in Pollard’s boat accepted Ramsdell’s suggestion, and the lot fell to young Owen Coffin, the captain’s first cousin.
Pollard had promised the boy’s mother he’d look out for him. “My lad, my lad!” the captain now shouted, “if you don’t like your lot, I’ll shoot the first man that touches you.” Pollard even offered to step in for the boy, but Coffin would have none of it. “I like it as well as any other,” he said.
Ramsdell drew the lot that required him to shoot his friend. He paused a long time. But then Coffin rested his head on the boat’s gunwale and Ramsdell pulled the trigger.
“He was soon dispatched,” Pollard would say, “and nothing of him left.”
By February 18, after 89 days at sea, the last three men on Chase’s boat spotted a sail in the distance. After a frantic chase, they managed to catch the English ship Indian and were rescued.
Three hundred miles away, Pollard’s boat carried only its captain and Charles Ramsdell. They had only the bones of the last crewmen to perish, which they smashed on the bottom of the boat so that they could eat the marrow. As the days passed the two men obsessed over the bones scattered on the boat’s floor. Almost a week after Chase and his men had been rescued, a crewman aboard the American ship Dauphin spotted Pollard’s boat. Wretched and confused, Pollard and Ramsdell did not rejoice at their rescue, but simply turned to the bottom of their boat and stuffed bones into their pockets. Safely aboard the Dauphin, the two delirious men were seen “sucking the bones of their dead mess mates, which they were loath to part with.”
The five Essex survivors were reunited in Valparaiso, where they recuperated before sailing back for Nantucket. As Philbrick writes, Pollard had recovered enough to join several captains for dinner, and he told them the entire story of the Essex wreck and his three harrowing months at sea. One of the captains present returned to his room and wrote everything down, calling Pollard’s account “the most distressing narrative that ever came to my knowledge.”
Years later, the third boat was discovered on Ducie Island; three skeletons were aboard. Miraculously, the three men who chose to stay on Henderson Island survived for nearly four months, mostly on shellfish and bird eggs, until an Australian ship rescued them.
Once they arrived in Nantucket, the surviving crewmen of the Essex were welcomed, largely without judgment. Cannibalism in the most dire of circumstances, it was reasoned, was a custom of the sea. (In similar incidents, survivors declined to eat the flesh of the dead but used it as bait for fish. But Philbrick notes that the men of the Essex were in waters largely devoid of marine life at the surface.)
Captain Pollard, however, was not as easily forgiven, because he had eaten his cousin. (One scholar later referred to the act as “gastronomic incest.”) Owen Coffin’s mother could not abide being in the captain’s presence. Once his days at sea were over, Pollard spent the rest of his life in Nantucket. Once a year, on the anniversary of the wreck of the Essex, he was said to have locked himself in his room and fasted in honor of his lost crewmen.
By 1852, Melville and Moby-Dick had begun their own slide into obscurity. Despite the author’s hopes, his book sold but a few thousand copies in his lifetime, and Melville, after a few more failed attempts at novels, settled into a reclusive life and spent 19 years as a customs inspector in New York City. He drank and suffered the death of his two sons. Depressed, he abandoned novels for poetry. But George Pollard’s fate was never far from his mind. In his poem Clarel he writes of
A night patrolman on the quay
Watching the bales till morning hour
Through fair and foul. Never he smiled;
Call him, and he would come; not sour
In spirit, but meek and reconciled:
Patient he was, he none withstood;
Oft on some secret thing would brood.
Gilbert King is a contributing writer in history for Smithsonian.com. His book Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.
Books: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale, 1851, Harper & Brothers Publishers. Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, 2000, Penguin Books. Thomas Nickerson, The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, 2000, Penguin Classics. Owen Chase, Narrative of the Whale-Ship Essex of Nantucket, 2006, A RIA Press Edition. Alex MacCormick, The Mammoth Book of Maneaters, 2003, Carroll & Graf Publishers. Joseph S. Cummins, Cannibals: Shocking True Tales of the Last Taboo on Land and at Sea, 2001, The Lyons Press. Evan L. Balkan, Shipwrecked: Deadly Adventures and Disasters at Sea, 2008, Menasha Ridge Press.
Articles: “The Whale and the Horror,” by Nathaniel Philbrick, Vanity Fair, May, 2000. “Herman Melville: Nantucket’s First Tourist?” by Susan Beegel, The Nantucket Historical Association, nha.org. ”Herman Melville and Nantucket,” The Nantucket Historical Association, nha.org. Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, “Biography: Herman Melville,” American Experience, PBS.org, pbs.org. “No Moby-Dick: A Real Captain, Twice Doomed,” by Jesse McKinley, New York Times, February 11, 2011. “The Essex Disaster,” by Walter Karp, American Heritage, April/May, 1983, Volume 34, Issue 3. “Essex (whaleship),” Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org. ”Account of the Ship Essex Sinking, 1819-1821., Thomas Nickerson, galapagos.to
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|To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7160)||7/7/2021 6:45:13 PM|
|From: Joachim K|
|The Worst Emperor in History|
Posted on July 5, 2021 by Baron Bodissey
Our Dutch correspondent H. Numan presents a historical overview of the man who did so much to usher in the Great War.
The worst emperor in history
by H. Numan
Who’s that? Though one to answer, what? So many choices. Was it Nero? Caligula? Perhaps a Chinese emperor? Nope. None of those. The very worst emperor in history was German. It was the last German emperor, Wilhelm II. He inherited a stable empire, well on its way to becoming a dominant economic power of Europe. When he was forced to abdicate, his empire lay in tatters. Not only his own empire, mind you. His fall was accompanied and preceded by the empires of Russia, Austria and the Ottomans. His rule influenced current world affairs enormously. Because of his actions the British empire fell a few decades later. And we can thank him for the demise of Western civilization. Due to his actions Hitler was able to rise to power, and in the east Lenin was put in charge. The latter was on his direct orders. Without his personal support Lenin could never have gained power in Russia. Without a communist Russia the People’s Republic of China was not possible.
It all began so well. When Wilhelm ascended his throne, Germany was a well-respected country. The world was (mostly) at peace. Germany was managed very capably by Bismarck. It was allied with Austria and Russia in the Three Emperors’ League. The three countries had a lot in common: none of them was democratic. All of them were ruled by autocrats, and they all were extremely conservative. If one political league was a natural one, this was it. When Austria couldn’t control socialist uprisings in 1848, the Russian Empire sent troops to its aid. Not because they had to. Not because they could grab some Austrian territories. But because the czar felt he was morally obliged to help his colleague ward off evil.
France was recovering from the Franco-Prussian war, but in no position to do something about it. There was no Franco-British alliance. More the opposite: France and England fought for centuries against one another. England’s position on Germany was somewhat indifferent: it wasn’t a naval superpower, that was all that mattered to England. They saw Wilhelm as a sort of clown, who excelled in one thing only: gigantic gaffes. The German foreign affairs department had to work overtime to defuse them.
Broadly speaking, the world was at peace. Colonialism worked. Yes, there were some uprisings here and there, but no national liberation movements. Some colonies became self governing countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada) within the British empire.
That more or less peaceful world changed completely when Wilhelm II took control. His first act was to get rid of Bismarck. Who needs a competent if not the best chancellor Germany ever had? Certainly not Wilhelm II. Who needs a league of emperors? So he got rid of that too. Wilhelm II was related to every monarch in Europe. Let’s keep it all in the family!
Wilhelm II fancied yachting. Then and now, a sport for the very rich. That made him an admiral, or so he thought. He read the book by Alfred Mahan, and decided Germany should become a naval superpower. Being Willy 2, he didn’t fancy becoming a naval super power, but of course the naval superpower.
He was in luck. The British made the same mistake as the French before them. The French built La Gloire, the first ocean-going all-steel warship. “Jolly good,” said the British, “we can do that too!” The French capacity to produce steel and warships was not nearly as developed as the British, so they didn’t even bother to try to compete. They knew they were beaten.
Later, the British built the first modern real battleship, HMS Dreadnought. Just as revolutionary as La Gloire, if not a good deal more so. At a stroke, all capital ships of every navy were obsolete, including those of the Royal Navy. Hey, said the emperor. Here’s our (= my) chance. Let’s build a lot of dreadnoughts. We’re gonna be the world’s naval superpower! Yes, openly. It was Germany’s destiny, after all. You don’t make friends that way. There was only one tiny little problem. Like France, Germany lacked the capability to outproduce Britain. Unlike France, Willy 2 refused to accept that fact. He tried to out-build the Royal Navy. In vain and at great cost to his nation.
There was something else, too: at that time, Germany had not one but two separate fleets. The Baltic fleet, obviously patrolling the Baltic Sea. And the North Sea fleet doing likewise in the North Sea. The Royal Navy could easily blockade the Danish passage with a couple of ships, if need be. Until Germany decided to connect the North Sea with the Baltic Sea by digging the Kiel Canal, or in German: the Nord-Ostsee Kanal. Now they could easily maneuver either fleet to become one much bigger fleet. That got Britain’s immediate attention.
The British had three options. They could try to negotiate reasonable fleet numbers, diplomatically asking not to begin an arms race that couldn’t be won by Germany, and finally negotiate a treaty with France. They did all three. Negotiations didn’t work. Perhaps it’s in the nature of Germany to refuse to negotiate anything if they think they can win. Mr. Mustachio (a.k.a. Hitler) did exactly the same a generation later. And he was as trustworthy as his imperial predecessor. Likewise, not much that one could convey diplomatically to the emperor. So, with utter reluctance, Britain negotiated a treaty with France. The feud of a nearly millennium (!) was finally over. All because of one man: Wilhelm II.
You see, British policy has always been to prevent one dominant European superpower. That used to be France, but now Germany tried to dominate the continent. Today is no different. It is no accident Britain left the EU.
On the other side of Germany, Wilhelm’s foreign policy didn’t work, either. The emperor of Russia didn’t like to be spoken to like a little dimwitted boy by his big bright nephew. Yes, he was somewhat slow in the mental department. Even so, he resented Wilhelm’s “big nephew knows best” attitude. So much so that Russia negotiated a treaty of mutual assistance with… France!
At that time, France was the proverbial democracy with a thriving economy. Russia was the most autocratic empire in the world, with a stagnant economy. Politically and economically they couldn’t be further apart. Translated to today: North Korea signing a mutual assistance treaty with the USA, to defend against China. That unlikely. Wilhelm was often nicknamed Willy. It takes a big willy (or a very small one) to accomplish both feats. France and England were unlikely partners, and Russia with France even more so.
We’re not done yet. We have to look at how the Germans waged war. Everybody knows about Blitzkrieg. But that isn’t a German word. The Germans call it Bewegungskrieg or war of movement. The word was created by British journalists during World War 2. The doctrine of Bewegungskrieg is centuries old. Nathan Bedford Forrest summed it up rather nicely: “Get there first with the most.”
It was the only way Prussia, and later Germany, could hold out against highly aggressive neighbors surrounding it. To the east, Russia. To the south, Austria. To the west, France. All of them much bigger than Prussia. And all of them very aggressive. To counter that Prussia professionalized their military and only fought short, fast and ferocious wars. The entire military and economic system of Prussia and Germany was build around that principle. Blitzkrieg wasn’t anything new at all.
It worked, and worked well. But it came at a price. The Bewegungskrieg doctrine requires as many troops as possible surrounding and destroying the enemy army. That automatically means as few as possible occupation troops garrisoned in occupied territories. Every army in history commits atrocities. That’s a given in war. But some commit a lot more than others. The Prussian and German armies fall into that category. Even von Clausewitz teaches that the occupation must be ruthless. He advises to put the fear of God into occupied territories. He doesn’t go into detail, nor does he have to. You get the drift.
There is another price to pay: trustworthiness. Belgium was a strictly neutral country, guaranteed by France, Britain and Germany. Willy with his innumerable gaffes offered Belgium Burgundy if they would allow German troops to pass through Belgium. After the war, and after they had decided to leave Belgium. If that were to happen, something which both kings Leopold and Albert very much doubted. And, of course, he repeated his solemn promise to respect Belgium’s neutrality many times. Hitler didn’t behave any differently, later.
Even during the Franco-Prussian War the German troops misbehaved badly. On purpose, mind you. They needed every capable soldier in the field, and couldn’t afford to waste any with occupational duties. Shoot a few angry looking men, burn some villages, carry a lot of farmers off to do harvesting work in Germany. Your own farmers are now under arms. It’s only natural to draft slave labor. Those fields don’t harvest themselves, you know. And it keeps the peasants from rising up against you. You can’t revolt if you’re dead or harvesting in Germany.
Under Willy the Second it became much, much, MUCH worse. The almost sacred von Schlieffen plan demanded far more troops moving much faster than was actually possible. Add to that the fierce resistance of the Belgian army, which wasn’t expected at all. The Germany army raped, pillaged, looted and executed itself through Belgium and northern France. Visit the areas under German occupation during WW1. You’ll see countless war memorials honoring the thousands of civilians executed by the German army.
What you won’t see are memorials for many more people who were carried off into slavery. Thousands of people were executed as franc-tireurs, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people were carried of into slavery. They were sent to Germany to work in the fields and factories. To keep the war production going. Like WW2 slavery, conditions were harsh. Perhaps not as harsh as in WW2, but nothing to sneer at. Not out of mercy or empathy. It simply wasn’t in Germany’s interest to work those slaves to death. They were worth far more alive.
Wir haben es nicht gewusst (we did not know) is not a line Willy 2 can use. Atrocities were reported by German officers (they weren’t all bad) and many neutral diplomats and reporters to the Oberste Heeresleitung. That was the supreme command of the German armed forces, and for the first half of the war, that included the emperor himself as well. He knew everything. In fact, he applauded the culprits, and basically encouraged them to do much worse. How? All he did was not promote or decorate them. Not immediately after the fact, that is. He never punished an officer for breaking the Geneva Convention. Being accused of atrocities wasn’t even a black mark on your resume. More the opposite.
The Germans were very keen on the Geneva Convention. But only when it suited them. If it didn’t, you could find the Geneva Convention in the outhouse. And yes, that is a direct consequence of what Willy allowed his troops to do.
That behavior opened the very gates of hell. I’ll grant WW1 Germans not setting up concentration camps. And that they didn’t have SS troops in the field. Simply because they didn’t need them. Not because they were incapable of it, or had any moral qualms. It wasn’t the most effective use of manpower, that was all.
During the later stages of the war, the German army decided to allow Lenin to return to Russia, to foment his revolution. By then the power of Willy was as big as his … willy, but nevertheless, it was a decision he and nobody else had to take. He did so with little hesitation.
I’ll happily admit Lenin did far worse than the Germans could wished for. But it was emperor Wilhelm who made everything possible. The same goes for Mr. Mustachio (Hitler). He didn’t come up with the stab-in-the-back-myth. German army officers after WW1 did. Willy never denied it, and actively promoted that idea. Of course, he didn’t admit guilt over anything at all. What else can you expect from a man who had his private war bulletins printed in gold ink? At the same time, his subjects were eating turnips — provided they had some. Most didn’t. Starvation was very real in Germany and Austria during WW1.
Could he foresee the fall of the British empire, colonialism, Western civilization and nihilism today? Of course not. We can, looking back with hindsight. At the time, nobody could. Least of all Willy with the bird brain he had. He was extremely ambitious and utterly ruthless. Much more than other emperors. Not himself personally, but in what he allowed other to do. He opened Pandora’s box. We can’t blame him for the consequences, but can blame him for opening the box in the first place.
The Russian Revolution would have happened anyway, but not the Bolshevik revolution. World War One probably would have happened, too, perhaps a bit later for a different reason. Austrian troops behaved just as atrociously in the Balkans and on their eastern front. But it was the methodical scale of German atrocities that made it possible. Later during World War Two it got much worse. Under Hitler methodical became industrial. Even there they were beaten by the sheer scale of Japanese and later communist Chinese atrocities. But you have to begin somewhere first.
Quite understandably the colonies (India, Africa) wanted to have a lot more to say about their governance, after their enormous sacrifices. National liberation movements began after WW1 almost everywhere. The horrors of war disillusioned not just a generation, but it still disillusions us now, today. Today’s nihilism can be attributed directly to World War One.
Those first modest beginnings were simply because of the actions of one man: Emperor Wilhelm II. No other ruler in history influenced the entire world that much and that bad.
— H. Numan
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|From: Joachim K||7/8/2021 9:02:02 AM|
|The Curious Case of the Socialite Who Sterilized Her Daughter|
Did Maryon Cooper Hewitt want to suppress “bad genes” or steal her child’s inheritance? Their battle over genetics and motherhood riveted the nation in 1936.
Audrey Clare Farley
The Swift and Merciless Execution of Corrine Sykes
The Dog Who Took the Witness Stand
This Novelist’s Female Heroes and Brazen Polyamory Shocked Victorian England
Bulbs flashed as the rouge- and fur-wearing socialite took the stand in a trial that would rivet the American public for the next several months. The image of the solemn-faced 22-year-old would appear in newspapers across the country. Some, like The New York Times, would print nearly 50 stories detailing the woman’s private life — her childhood, romantic relationships, drinking and spending habits, even the lingerie she was wearing. (It was imported from France.) It was January of 1936, and heiress Ann Cooper Hewitt was suing her mother in a San Francisco court for $500,000 (roughly $9 million today). The plaintiff claimed that her mother paid doctors to “unsex” her during an appendectomy in order to deprive her of an inheritance from her millionaire father’s estate. The defendant argued that she was merely protecting her daughter — and society — from the consequences of Ann becoming pregnant.
When Peter Cooper Hewitt died in 1921, the inventor and entrepreneur left two-thirds of his estate to Ann and one-third to Ann’s mother, his wife. But the will stipulated that Ann’s share reverted back to her mother if Ann died childless. Knowing this, Ann’s mother purportedly paid two doctors $9,000 each (about $165,000 today) to remove her daughter’s fallopian tubes along with her appendix when Ann presented at the hospital with stomach pains. This occurred merely months before the plaintiff’s 21st birthday, after which point Ann’s mother would have no further say in her medical care because Ann would no longer be a minor.
Ann’s mother insisted that she took this action because Ann was “feebleminded,” citing an intelligence test performed by a psychologist shortly before the procedure. A History Magazine story on the case by G.S. Payne reported that Ann could not answer questions such as “How long is the longest river in the United States?” and “What is the term of a U.S. president?” The defendant further claimed that her daughter was morally degenerate, referencing Ann’s addiction to masturbation, love letters between Ann and her chauffeur that contained the young lady’s pubic hairs, and Ann’s “erotic tendencies” with men ranging from bellhops to “Negro” train porters.
In response to these accusations, the plaintiff’s attorney swiftly called witnesses who could speak to Ann’s intelligence. “She writes fluently in French and can converse in Italian,” a physician affirmed via affidavit. “She has read books on Shakespeare, French history, Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Antoinette, King Lear, Dante’s Inferno, and the works of Charles Dickens.” If there were any intellectual deficiencies, this witness wrote, they were due to Ann having been neglected by her mother for most of her childhood.
The young socialite developed this narrative on the stand. “I was locked up all the time,” Ann testified. “She never had any affection for me whatsoever. She would drink all night and drag me out at four in the morning to tell me if I’d die, she’d have all my money.” A nurse who cared for Ann after the operation corroborated her story, explaining that she’d been hired to look after a mental case but formed an entirely different opinion about the situation: “Half an hour after I saw the girl for the first time, I knew that here was no insane person. I observed three months of abuse of her by her mother. She was kept in pajamas upstairs. Her letters were censored. So were her telephone calls.” Ann’s attorney made a point to emphasize that Ann’s mother, Maryon Cooper Hewitt, known in Europe as the “greatest woman gambler in the world,” was a four-time divorcée. In court and when speaking with reporters, he referred to her by all of her married names: Mrs. Maryon Brugiere-Denning-Hewitt-d’Erlanger-McCarter. (Peter Cooper Hewitt, Maryon’s third spouse, was the only one she did not divorce, so she resumed her deceased husband’s name after her final marriage.)
As the spotlight moved from Ann’s “adrift” ways to her mother’s, it became clear to the public that both women were on trial for the same offense: being unqualified for motherhood. Wendy Kline, who wrote a chapter on the case in her book, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, explains that the public found nothing extraordinary about this focus, as 1930s society fixated on the ills of female sexuality and the importance of protecting maternal virtues during a time of social crisis. For Depression-era America, Kline writes, “the real problem was not financial but feminine.”
There was something else about this case that raised eyebrows: the unconventional use of sterilization. Ann appeared to have been sterilized because of environmental rather than genetic defects; she was the product of bad parenting, rather than bad genes. Furthermore, the involuntary procedure occurred in a private practice, rather than in an institutional setting. Ann was also wealthy, whereas the usual targets of sterilization (epileptic, intellectually disabled, and unemployed persons) were poor. If the court ruled in favor of Ann’s mother, these details could reinvigorate and redefine a flailing movement that embraced the practice of sterilization: eugenics.
The term “eugenics,” which translates to “well-born” from Greek, originated with English intellectual Sir Francis Galton. In his 1869 book Hereditary Genius, Galton drew on Gregor Mendel’s insights on the reproductive patterns of peas to advocate a selective breeding program among humans. Galton wanted to ensure that the characteristics he associated with the upper classes, such as superior intelligence, were passed down. Galton’s theories significantly shaped policies in the United States, as Edwin Black’s volume, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, demonstrates. According to Black, the Englishman’s ideas inspired Charles Davenport, a prominent American biologist, to establish the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York in 1910. Davenport appointed Harry Laughlin as the first director, and the two hired field workers to collect family pedigrees from the public. These workers were especially eager to identify “defective” traits, such as poverty, intellectual disability, and criminality. With the support of philanthropic organizations, such as the Carnegie Institution, and certain government offices, such as the Department of Agriculture, the ERO campaigned for stringent immigration restrictions and helped to pass legislation in 28 states authorizing the sterilization of persons deemed to be “unfit.” Over 64,000 individuals went under the knife as a result of these laws.
An anti-forced sterilization poster by the artist Rachael Romero, 1953. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
One of them was Carrie Buck, an impoverished woman in rural Virginia who conceived a baby out of wedlock. Authorities used this fact to claim that she, like her mother, was promiscuous. (Buck claimed to have been raped.) After Buck was sent to an epileptic colony and sterilized against her will, a lawyer representing Buck sued the medical authorities acting on behalf of the state. (He was collaborating with the defense to test the legality of the new legislation.) In 1927, the case, Buck v. Bell, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling of the Virginia courts. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously opined, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind …. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
But by the time Ann Cooper Hewitt’s trial commenced in 1936, the “science” behind eugenics was proving to be rather shoddy. In her chapter on the case, Kline explains that both genetic researchers and biologists were beginning to realize that the inheritance of positive or negative traits extended well beyond one generation. A prominent biologist at Johns Hopkins noted that even if all of the “feebleminded” persons in the country were sterilized, it could take 68 generations to decrease the proportion of those traits in the population. This was because “normal” people could be carriers of the trait. Colleagues elaborated on this criticism, claiming that it was impossible to identify potential carriers of “bad genes” and that eugenicists completely disregarded the role of the environment in the development of traits.
The rise of the Nazi party in Europe delivered another blow to the eugenics movement. In 1933, under the new leadership of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis implemented a eugenic sterilization program that impacted more than 350,000 individuals. At first, leading eugenicists in the United States were thrilled to see what the Nazis had accomplished using their own programs as blueprints. Some, like Joseph DeJarnette of Virginia’s Western State Hospital, were even a little envious to observe, “The Germans are beating us at our own game.” But eugenicists soon realized that Hitler’s persecution of the Jews could seriously undermine support for sterilization in the United States. While the full horror of Hitler’s plans had not been made known to the world, the dictator had already become extremely unpopular among Americans. For the first time, eugenicists second-guessed their rhetoric of “racial integrity” and “race betterment,” thinking it better to find a new idiom with which to describe the noble work of the movement. The Cooper Hewitt case provided that idiom.
* * *
In February of 1936, an ambulance was called to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, where a guest registered under the name “Mrs. Jane Merritt” was found unconscious. It appeared that the woman had consumed an overdose of a sleeping potion. While convalescing in the hospital, she was charged with the crime of attempted suicide. But this was not the extent of her legal troubles; there was a police warrant for her arrest in California, where she awaited a criminal trial. The woman was Ann’s mother, Mrs. Maryon Cooper Hewitt.
A newspaper report about Maryon Cooper Hewitt’s attempted suicide, February 29, 1936. Photo courtesy of The Owensboro Messenger Archives.
Shortly after Ann had filed her civil suit, the San Francisco prosecutor charged Cooper Hewitt and the two doctors responsible for Ann’s salpingectomy with the felony of mayhem, a criminal charge reserved for cases involving the act of disabling or disfiguring an individual. The two physicians were arrested and released on bail while they awaited the trial. Mrs. Cooper Hewitt filed an affidavit asserting her innocence and then fled to the East Coast, where she tried to end her life. For the next several months, her physician ordered her to stay in a New Jersey sanitarium. When she recovered from the psychiatric event, he informed authorities in California that his patient was still “in a very serious condition,” explaining that she had heart and intestinal troubles aggravated by pneumonia. The criminal case against the doctors in California would have to continue without her testimony, he said.
And so it did. The doctors’ attorney prepared his defense by corresponding extensively with Paul Popenoe, secretary of the Human Betterment Foundation and founder of the Southern California branch of the American Eugenics Society. Once he had a firm grasp on the eugenic arguments in favor of Ann’s sterilization, he called experts to articulate those talking points. These experts insisted that it mattered little whether Ann’s abnormalities were genetic, as she was certain to make an unfit mother. They also claimed that her nurse’s testimony counted for nothing, as only physicians were qualified to detect feeblemindedness. The testimony lasted only six days before the judge, convinced of Ann’s promiscuity and the wisdom of her doctors, dismissed the charges against the doctors. He justified his decision on the grounds that Ann was a minor at the time of her sterilization, implying that the surgery had been performed legally with parental consent.
This did not mean that Mrs. Cooper Hewitt was absolved of the charges brought against her. But Ann decided not to testify against her mother and to settle the civil suit for $150,000. She may have felt sympathy for her kin, weariness with legal proceedings, or the desire to escape public scrutiny. Since the New Year, she had been excoriated by the press, as these verses about her printed in The New York Daily Mirror suggest:
I’m only a sterilized heiress,
A butt for the laughter of rubes,
I’m comely and rich
But a venomous bitch-
My mother ran off with my tubes.
Oh, fie on you, mother, you bastard,
Come back with my feminine toys,
Restore my abdomen,
And make me a woman,
I want to go out with the boys.
The caricature expressed by this journalist was by no means universally accepted. Many sympathized with the woman who had testified, “I had no dolls when I was little, and I’ll have no children when I’m old.” That year, Ann received thousands of supportive letters, including many marriage proposals.
Without Ann’s testimony, the prosecutor in San Francisco had no choice but to drop the charges against Maryon. Even with her legal troubles resolved, Ann’s mother never fully recovered from her attempted suicide and illness — nor from her fall from the upper echelons of society. Just a few years later, she died in her Manhattan apartment from an apparent cerebral hemorrhage. The attendance at her funeral was as slight as The New York Times’s few lines covering the event, Payne writes. But among those in attendance was Ann, who would also marry five times and then die at an even younger age (40 years old). As she wept at her mother’s graveside, Ann suggested to the public she was, if not a fit mother, at least a forgiving daughter.
Unfortunately for other young women in America, one’s capacity for motherhood was still all that mattered when it came to certain civil liberties. And thanks to the Cooper Hewitt case, the burden of proof to demonstrate a woman’s unfitness for motherhood was even lower than it had been when “defective” genes were the focus. Previously, eugenicists had to produce evidence of disease or degeneracy based on one’s family tree or intelligence tests (although both of these rubrics were skewed). Now they only needed to establish that a woman had a morally bankrupt mother; it followed that she would become one herself.
With this shift in emphasis from heredity to maternal care, eugenicists admitted that family pathology was not an exclusive problem of the poorer classes; it could result from any woman’s desertion of domestic duties. Decisions related to sterilization, therefore, needed to be made on a case-by-case basis. Eugenicists insisted that this policy distinguished American efforts from the heinous goings-on abroad. Nonetheless, authorities like Popenoe and his colleagues at the Human Betterment Foundation focused their attention on poor and minority classes. Over the next four decades, 20,000 women in California (and hundreds of thousands around the country) underwent the procedure that Ann unknowingly received. The majority were black, Puerto Rican and indigenous persons.
Physicians often recorded these procedures as “voluntary.” They claimed that women were motivated by a sense of responsibility to climb on the table, citing widespread support for sterilization. Kline explains that, following the sensational case in California, the public no longer regarded motherhood as a woman’s right, but instead as a responsibility to be exercised by a certain few and avoided by others. This is suggested by the fact that, despite widespread coverage of the Cooper Hewitt case, there were neither protests against the judge’s dismissal of the doctors’ charges nor public uprisings about sterilization in general. Kline also cites a Fortune magazine survey conducted in 1937 demonstrating that 66 percent of readers favored compulsory sterilization while only 15 percent opposed the practice. The Great Depression and the Second World War reinforced these attitudes, as these national crises convinced Americans of the need for a citizenry with discipline, industry, and other virtues believed to be cultivated in a good home.
An anti-sterilization protest, circa 1971. Photo courtesy of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, via UCLA Hammer Museum.
In 1979, California formally repealed laws authorizing sterilization in the state, but the practice has continued illegally. In 2013, a state audit found that between 2006 and 2010, 144 women in the prison system underwent a bilateral tubal ligation under conditions of missing or dubious consent. In some cases, the sterilizations even took place without individuals’ knowledge. Targeted inmates shared a profile: They typically tested below a high school level of reading proficiency, had been pregnant five or more times, and were between 26 and 40 years of age.
In recent years, there have been many reports of court-ordered sterilizations across the country, including that of a 21-year old West Virginia mother whose tubes were tied as a term of her probation for marijuana possession. In 2015, news broke that prosecutors in Nashville, Tennessee, stipulated birth control in plea deals with certain defendants. More recently, a judge in that state issued a standing order promising women a 30-day sentence reduction in exchange for a birth control implant. (He also offered men a sentence reduction in exchange for a vasectomy.) He explained his order by saying, “I hope to encourage [the inmates] to take personal responsibility and give them a chance, when they do get out, not to be burdened with children.” He added, “This gives them a chance to get on their feet and make something of themselves.” Just like Mrs. Cooper Hewitt and the eugenic authorities of her day, he insisted that the measures were protective, rather than punitive.
Such comments suggest that the environmental logic of eugenics continues to inform social and clinical practices. (So does the hereditary logic of eugenics, as suggested by some efforts to restrict the reproductive rights of disabled and chronically ill women, who are believed not necessarily to make “bad” choices but to have “bad” genes.) Though largely unknown today, the Cooper Hewitt case helped to form that logic. The trial in San Francisco shaped public attitudes about the dangers of domestic environments in which an ideal mother is lacking. It set a legal precedent that it is a woman’s moral responsibility to surrender her biological capacities for the good of society.
For some women impacted, the social and psychological consequences of sterilization cut deeper than the physical wounds. The humorist who rhymed about Cooper Hewitt in The New York Daily Mirror suggested this when he concluded his poem:
Oh, fie on you, mother, courthouse and ruling
I want my twin bubbles of jest,
Take away my hot flashes,
And menopause rashes,
And let me feel weight on my chest.
While intended to satirize what the author perceived to be Ann’s hypersexuality, these verses bespeak a sad reality for many sterilized women. Often, the prospect of heterosexual romance and intimacy (and economic stability, by extension) are extinguished during the procedure, as many men are uninterested in partners who cannot bear their children. (It is conceivable that some of Ann’s marriages failed for the reason that they were not fruitful.) Their bodies carved, women become as unwanted as their offspring.
Audrey Farley is writing a book on Ann Cooper Hewitt. Her work has appeared or will soon appear in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Washington Post, Longreads, Public Books, Lady Science, and Marginalia Review of Books, where she is a contributing editor.
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|To: Joachim K who wrote (7163)||7/10/2021 6:49:09 AM|
|From: Tom Clarke|
| The Enduring Appeal of the Stoics |
Posted on 21st June 2021 by Antigone in Philosophy, The Classical Tradition
The Meditations of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–80) is consistently one of the best-selling philosophy books, ancient or modern. Countless readers continue to find inspiration from his notebook jottings. At the same time, this is not a book that is often taken seriously by modern philosophers. This is even the case with modern specialists in ancient philosophy. After all, how can Marcus’ notebook jottings compare with the depth and sophistication of work like Aristotle’s Metaphysics?
The error in that kind of negative assessment is that it implicitly assumes that Marcus was trying to do the same thing as Aristotle, and then failing miserably. But he wasn’t. Marcus’ aim was quite different. So, what was Marcus doing? His book Meditations is a collection of notes and reflections written to himself. It is comprised of comments on events in his own life, quotations from texts he was reading, and – most importantly of all – constant reminders of how he ought to act and what he ought to think about things happening to him.
On meeting a rude and angry person, Marcus tells himself not to respond in kind but instead to remember that they are a fellow human being who is evidently going through a difficult time (Med. 2.1). The appropriate response, then, is sympathy rather than indignation. Marcus repeats ideas like these to himself again and again. The goal is to digest them so that they become second nature. As he puts it himself, his aim is to dye his soul a new colour, and to do this thoroughly one has to dip the cloth in the dye multiples times, so to speak (Med. 5.16).
Bust of Marcus Aurelius, AD 170s (Musée des Antiques, Toulouse, France).
What are the core ideas that Marcus repeats most often? As we’ve just seen, one of the most common is that other people – including anti-social ones – are fellow human beings whom we should always work with rather than against. Closely related to this is the idea that we are all parts of a single community and, as parts, we benefit whenever the community does. Consequently, we should prioritize working for the benefit of the community over our narrow self-interest, knowing that by doing so we shall benefit both ourselves and others.
Alongside these broadly ethical ideas, Marcus also reminds himself about Nature and his place within it. Nature is ultimately a process of continual change and everything within it is merely a transient gathering-together of matter. Marcus also reminds himself often that his life is just a brief moment in the history of the universe and his body little more than a speck of sand within the wider cosmos.
These constant reminders of the brevity and transience of human life lead Marcus also to reflect on his future reputation. As a figure in the public eye, who was likely to be remembered by future historians, he reminds himself not to be overly concerned by what others will think of him and instead to focus on acting the best he can in the present moment.
The constant repetition of these key themes throughout the Meditations has sometimes been judged as a stylistic weakness. But Marcus was never trying to write fine literary prose; his aim was something far more ambitious, namely transforming himself into a better human being.
Title-page of the first printed edition of the Meditations, in which a clunky Latin translation precedes Marcus’ original and inimitable Greek (G. Xylander, Zurich, 1559): the full book can be browsed here.
Marcus was a Stoic. His goal was to live his life according to the principles of Stoicism, but it was never his aim to lay out in detail what those Stoic principles were. After all, he was writing to himself, and he already knew them. Instead, the notes we get are often brief nods and hints – enough to remind himself of the ideas he wanted to keep in mind.
In order to understand the Meditations fully, then, we need to know quite a bit about earlier Stoic philosophy. Stoicism was already centuries old by the time Marcus was writing. The school was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium – whose statue opens this article – at some time around 300 BC, and it flourished there over the next two centuries. The texts of the early Stoics active in Athens are more or less all lost and the earliest accounts we have of Stoic philosophy were written by the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero in the first century BC.
In the following century another Roman, Seneca the Younger, embraced Stoicism and outlined its core ideas in a series of letters and essays. Just a few decades later, a slave in Rome called Epictetus managed to gain his freedom and went on to set up a school of philosophy in Greece. Epictetus would become an important influence on Marcus.
Epictetus and his crutch: the frontispiece (engraved by Michael Burghers) to the Christ Church edition of his Enchiridion, or “Essential handbook” (Oxford, 1715).
The core Stoic doctrine that shaped Marcus’s outlook on life was the claim that the only thing that truly matters if one wants to live a good life is a virtuous character. At one point Marcus says:
If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, moderation, and courage… turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found. (Med. 3.6)
By contrast, everything else – money, power, fame, posthumous reputation – are mere ‘indifferents’ for the Stoics. These things might be preferable to their opposites, but they don’t directly contribute to living a good life. The standard Stoic view is that some of these ‘indifferent’ things, such as health and wealth, have a real positive value, while their opposites, sickness and poverty, have a real negative value. By nature, we pursue health and wealth because these things are vital for our physical survival. They enable us to live, even if it is only a virtuous character that enables us to live well. Marcus was no doubt well aware of this, but in the Meditations he often puts this subtlety to one side, insisting on virtue alone as the only thing that matters. In doing so, he was following what we might call the hard-line view of Epictetus, whose works had inspired Marcus at an early age.
Marcus Aurelius distributing bread to the people, Joseph-Marie Vien, 1765 (Musée des beaux-arts, Marseille, France).
Marcus also took from Epictetus the idea that we ought to focus our attention on what we can control and not waste time agonizing over what we cannot. One thing that both of them insist is that we have no control over what others think about us:
You have been told that someone speaks badly about you. This is what you have been told; you have not been told that you are harmed. (Med. 8.49)
This introduces another theme, also taken from Epictetus, namely that when we get upset it is not due to things but to our judgements about those things. The value judgements that we make produce the emotions that we experience – we desire things that we judge to be good and fear things that we judge to be bad. So, by paying attention to our judgements we can alter the sorts of emotions we experience:
If you suffer distress because of some external cause, it is not the thing itself that troubles you but your judgement about it, and it is within your power to cancel that judgement at any moment. (Med. 8.47)
Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, c. AD 175 (Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy).
Marcus was also influenced by the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 540–480 BC), who was a regular point of reference for the Stoics. Heraclitus was famous for claiming that everything is in a continual process of change, unstable from one moment to the next. Marcus reflects on this often, and he quotes from Heraclitus a number of times, in the process preserving fragments that would otherwise be lost.
This Heraclitean idea of perpetual change is primarily a statement about the natural world, and so part of physical theory, but Marcus reflects on what we might call its existential consequences. Death, he often says, is merely a natural process of change. The insults and, indeed, praise of other people is of no consequence when set against the backdrop of ever-changing Nature. As Marcus puts it,
Of man’s life, his time is a point, his substance flowing, his perception faint, the constitution of his body decaying, his soul a spinning wheel, his fortune hard to predict, and his fame doubtful; that is to say, all the things of the body are a river, the things of the soul dream and delusion, life is a war and a journey in a foreign land, and afterwards oblivion. (Med. 2.17)
The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius, Eugène Delacroix, 1844 (Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon, France).
It is comments like this that continue to hit home with readers of the Meditations today. You don’t need to know anything about Stoic physics and its debts to Heraclitus to be able to appreciate the force of what Marcus is saying. Countless people continue to draw benefit from this ancient Stoic text – enough to keep it near the top of the best-seller lists today.
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|To: Tom Clarke who wrote (7165)||7/10/2021 9:21:41 AM|
|From: Joachim K|
| The Stoics vs Ayn Rand|
A reader recently sent me a link to an article on Stoicism published by the Ayn Rand Institute… I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s true. The article in question is actually the transcript of a lecture made available through the ARI’s campus branch, and it is the quintessential mischaracterization of Stoicism. As such, it is well worth examining in some detail.
[Full disclosure: I have a very low opinion of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist “philosophy,” as can be seen here, here, here, and here. So take the following with a grain of salt. I am not an unbiased observer in this case!]
The author of this inane piece on Stoicism is one Leonard Peikoff, described on the ARI’s web site as “Ayn Rand’s foremost student and today’s leading expert on Objectivism.” Peikoff begins by telling his students “I’ll mention the names [of the major Stoic philosophers], but I won’t bother you with the dates or the spellings because very few people have ever heard of them” and immediately proceeds to make a first major mistake, presenting later (Roman) Stoic philosophy as “more Platonist, more this world vs. another world, the soul vs. the body, and more emphasizing immortality.” He gets that from what appears to be a very superficial reading of Epictetus and a smattering of Marcus — the only two Stoic authors he cites, very few times (no Seneca, at all, not to mention the non-Stoic commentaries by Cicero and Diogenes Laertius).
The biggest whopper, arguably, comes in section 2 of the lecture, entitled “Achieving apathy.” Peikoff there makes the most elementary mistake, equating the Greek apatheia with the English apathy, and adding for good measure the wholly gratuitous “clarification” that the Stoics meant to achieve “salvation” through their philosophy (he does this because he wants to establish a strong link to Christianity, and eventually to Kant, one of the Objectivists’ nemeses).
After a dig at the Cynics (“they were, in effect, the first hippies in the West”), he proceeds with yet another incredible statement, to the effect the Stoics were “of course similar to Epicurus in their overall thrust of their viewpoint,” a notion that anyone even superficially acquainted with Hellenistic philosophy will reject as ludicrous.
Here is a taste of just how incredibly wrong Peikoff gets the basics of Stoicism: “We must stop valuing friends; we must stop valuing even life, and some of them went so far as to recommend suicide on the grounds that nothing, including life, was a value.” He obviously simply does not understand the concept of “indifferents.” The Stoics valued friends and life very much, and certainly did not counsel easy suicide, but they thought that friends and even life itself ought to be given up if this is required to act morally, with virtue. Stoic suicide was a noble and extreme act, which Epictetus advised only when there was no alternative and one had lost any ability to contribute to society, for instance because of terminal illness.
Again, Peikoff: “What we must do, they said, is achieve utter insensibility … non-emotion. Emotions for them are a disease, an aberration, any emotion, emotion as such.” No, no, no. This is the stereotype of Stoicism that, although common, gets pretty much everything wrong about the philosophy. Stoics cultivated positive emotions (including love and a sense of justice), while aimed at rejecting — not giving “assent” to, in their terminology — negative, destructive emotions.
Part 3 of the lecture is a long yet superficial discussion of Stoic metaphysics. To be fair, the ancient Stoics themselves didn’t help here, with frequent talk of God and Zeus, especially in the later period. But as plenty of authors have pointed out, the Stoics identified God with Nature, the soul was material, and everything happens because of universal cause and effect. While the ancient Stoics certainly did hold to a teleological view of the universe, this was nothing like the Judeo-Christian-Muslim personal God with a plan.
Peikoff instead brings up the argument from design for the existence of God, which is pretty much irrelevant in this context, and then refers to the Objectivist idea that cosmic chaos is metaphysically impossible because, you know, natural law is “simply” a corollary of the logical principle of identity. As he puts it: “A is A is quite sufficient.” This, it should be clear to anyone with elementary training in logic or metaphysics, is nonsense on stilts (and would certainly come as a big surprise to theoretical physicists!).
Peikoff does at some point say that for the Stoics God is “within the universe” (it would be more accurate to say that God is the universe), but then he incredibly labels this “essentially the standard religious viewpoint.” I guess that must be why Spinoza, who held to a concept of God very similar to the Stoic one, got into so much trouble with religious authorities. Oh, no, wait…
The next bit deals with the Stoic idea of determinism. The Stoics were what by modern standards we would call compatibilists about free will, a position that definitely does not sit well with Objectivism. Again, Peikoff gets some of the fundamentals wrong. For instance he says that “the Stoics agreed with Epicurus that universal cause and effect means rigid determinism.” Uhm, no they didn’t. Indeed, that was one of the major differences between the two philosophies. While the Stoics were determinists, the Epicureans’ picture of the cosmos was one of chaos — which is why the Christian fathers were more sympathetic to Stoicism and did everything in their power to smear Epicureanism (which led to people still today thinking of Epicureans as simplistic hedonists who only value sex, drugs and rock ‘n ‘roll).
Peikoff then does a bit criticizing Stoic epistemology, and in particular their idea that the Sage (and only the Sage, who, remember is a fictional ideal, never a real person) can achieve certain knowledge about some matters that he is able to distinguish “clearly and distinctly.” The Stoics were justly and effectively criticized by the Skeptic Platonists, and did modify some of their thinking in response to such criticism. But Peikoff needs this part because he wants to link Stoicism with Descartes, who was famous for a similar notion of clear and distinct things about which one can be certain (his example, of course, was “cogito ergo sum”). I don’t have a problem with acknowledging Stoic influences on later philosophers, not just Descartes, but the above mentioned Kant as well. But since Objectivists have a bad opinion of the latter two, they also have a problem with Stoicism.
Perhaps the major issue that Peikoff has with the Stoics concerns their view of man (meaning humanity) and his place in the cosmos. For the Stoics we are parts of a universal machine, and we play a non-negotiable part in the general workings of the cosmos/Nature/God. Whether this part is the result of Providence or atoms — as Marcus says a number of times in the Meditations — doesn’t matter. It is what it is. But this is something that, again, Objectivism cannot possibly accept, since it requires a radical view of human freedom (hence the Objectivist’s scorn for determinism hinted at above).
Stoics did emphasize “duty,” another idea that is anathema to Objectivists, so much so that Peikoff labels the Stoic position “the antithesis of the Objectivist approach to morality … Stoics are one of the main sources of what Kant later took over and blew up into astronomic proportions.”
What so objectionable about the idea of duty toward practicing virtue and being helpful to fellow human beings? Well, remember that Objectivism is a philosophy based on self-enlightened egoism, according to which one does not have duties toward others, and where indeed the very concept of duty is inherently pernicious. Hence Peikoff’s invectives against both the Christians and Kant. But he allows some mitigating factor: “The Stoics, however, are not nearly as consistent or as corrupt as Kant. No Greek, however bad he became, ever dreamed of approaching the man-destroying evil later adopted and proclaimed by Kant and his followers.” Thank Zeus for that!
Section 7 of the lecture returns to “apathy” and the Stoic idea of acceptance, which is again badly mangled and misconstrued. Here is Peikoff’s summary of the Stoic take: “Do not burn with passion for the things you haven’t got. Do not feel anger, or rebellion, or protest, against the state of affairs you’re in, or the kind of world you’re in, or the social circumstances you’re in. Take the course of events as it comes; yield unprotestingly to whatever occurs.”
Again, no. The Stoics were constantly faced with this sort of retort, so much so that they had a name for it: the lazy argument. One can see where this caricature originates, of course. The famous Stoic metaphor of the dog leashed to a cart, who has the option of either struggling hopelessly and causing himself pain or go along with the ride and enjoy it, lends itself to the sort of superficial interpretation that Peikoff peddles. But I expected better from Rand’s “foremost student.” If one reads the Discourses, or the Meditations, or a number of essays by Seneca, instead of quote mining, one ought to understand that the Stoics were very much into changing things: those we know of were, after all, teachers, politicians, generals and emperors — hardly the sort of passive fellow who “takes the course of events as it comes; yield unprotestingly to whatever occurs.” On the contrary, the Stoic virtue of justice and the associated Discipline of Action are all about changing things for the better. At any rate, you know someone’s got it seriously wrong when one can write things like this: “the Stoic withdrawal from life is much greater than Epicurus’s.”
The big sin of the Stoics, from an Objectivist perspective, is of course their altruism, founded on the just mentioned Discipline of Action and their concept of cosmopolitanism. Incredibly, Peikoff manages to turn Stoic altruism into a perverse form of egoism: “Since they’re Stoics, they remain emotionally aloof, cold, uninvolved, apathetic; what then is their real interest in helping others? Well, the critics answer: to give the Stoic a chance to exercise his moral muscle; in effect, to do what’s duty and thus gain the selfish sense that he has been virtuous; so their real goal is selfish after all.” This is one of the most egregious examples of misrepresentation and rationalization I’ve encountered in a long time. Congratulations, Leonard!
Section 9 criticizes the Stoics for what Peikoff calls “the primacy of motive,” that is the idea that what is important is the motivations that move the moral agent, not the actual achievements of his actions. Again, the objection seems to stem from the influence that the Stoics have had on Christianity and the much hated Kant. But this objection can be raised against any form of virtue ethics, not just Stoicism, and at any rate misses the mark because certain outcomes rather than others were indeed preferred by the Stoics. They just acknowledged that their preferences aren’t binding on the universe as a whole.
The last section of the lecture finally manages to give the Stoics some credit, though with a very large caveat. They were the first Western philosophers to grasp the fundamental idea of the equality of all men. (Not exactly, since Stoic cosmopolitanism is derived from the Cynics, and even Plato articulated a significant sense of equality when he gave equal duties to men and women in his Republic. But who cares about historical accuracy when one has to score ideological points.)
What’s the caveat? That the ground for Stoic cosmopolitanism, according to Peikoff, was “supernatural.” Except, of course, that it wasn’t. First off, the Stoics simply did not hold to a concept of the supernatural: God is nature, the soul is made of matter, and cause and effect are universal. There are no miracles to be had in the Stoic view of the world. Second, the Stoics got the idea of equality the same way they got all their fundamental ideas, by “following nature,” meaning specifically by understanding human nature. For them, humans are social animals capable of rationality. From which it follows that we ought to deploy reason to live socially. As Seneca famously put it: “Adhibe rationem difficultatibus” (bring the mind to bear upon your problems).
But Peikoff will have none of that, contrasting instead the Stoics with the Sophists, and somehow managing to get the latter to come up on top. Since I don’t think very highly of sophistry, I guess I can rest my case here.
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|To: Joachim K who wrote (7166)||7/13/2021 9:52:04 PM|
|From: Tom Clarke|
|Famous republican’s Irish-language shopfront to be restored|
Restoration of signage at 55 Amiens Street to commemorate Tom Clarke and celebrate Irish language
Fri, Jul 9, 2021, 16:57
Tom Clarke’s tobacconist shop at number 55, Amiens Street in Dublin city.
An Irish-language shopfront, formerly owned by the famous Irish republican, Tom Clarke, is set to be restored.
Clarke, who played a pivotal role in the 1916 Easter Rising, operated a tobacconist at number 55, Amiens Street in Dublin city from 1908 to 1911.
After the Rising ended, Clarke was brought to Kilmainham Gaol and was later executed by firing squad, along with Pádraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh.
His former shop, which is currently derelict, will have its early 1900s signage restored, using €50,000 in funding from the Irish-language shopfront stream of the Historic Structures Fund (HSF).
Structural works will also be necessary to safeguard the building, and the gilded signwriting on the shop windows will be reinstated.
“When Tom Clarke had his shop here, it was illegal to have signage in the Irish language,” said Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin.
“The restoration of this signage under the HSF not only commemorates an important chapter of our history, but is a celebration of our language. I am very much looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition.”
The project will be overseen by Dublin City Council.
The HSF assists owners and custodians of historic and protected structures to safeguard them into the future.
In April, €3 million in funding was granted to 85 other projects under the scheme.
Applications to the fund are closed for this year, but it is hoping to run the shopfront stream again in 2022.
Details will be posted on the department’s website at a later date.
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