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How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was – such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; – I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs!
— Socrates, The Apology
In a written account of a runaway from slavery, authorities stopped a suspected fellow, questioning him closely. “Where are you going?” they asked. “I am from South Carolina!” he replied. Puzzled, unsure about his answer, they let him continue on his way. His empathetic response won the day.
“I’m from South Carolina!” Do you think I am so stupid as to run away, knowing what I face if captured? Surely the masters of fear succeeded in deterring the thought of escape and made profoundly clear my lot, and I my willingness to accept it without challenge.
“I’m from South Carolina!” Need I say more than this simple moral plea, even for a bondsman? Is justice found in the demands for denigration and physical cruelty that respect no rights except wealth and power?
“I’m from South Carolina!” I know you will never admit my feat of deception, or the success of my journey so far; it casts a long shadow on your beliefs and institutions and shows how the cherished follies you substitute for truth fall woefully short, including the idea that superior intelligence and character is tied to skin color and the land of birth or heritage. I am African. Stop me–and reveal to yourselves your failure, and know you will fail again. You can not face this failure, so you will ignore my success. Let me go; you will pretend this never happened and that your fears and narcissism are intact.
“I’m from South Carolina!” You are powerless. I will not respond to your confrontation. Nor be drawn into a defensive fight. I have said enough. My truth is deaf to your demand. Let me pass.
These four dialogues—different than Plato’s—are multiple sides of the gnostic “that-which-is,” the search for a reality based in truth, in which no simple explanation by itself gives the right reason, but they all do so collectively, as air, water and sun enjoin the storm.
The South Carolina runaway flees at the zenith of oppression by race. At a time and point when the enslaved were captured as fighters and sold like commodities. They were shipped stacked like casks of myrrh, the dead deposed like scraps; landed, then worked like beasts, bought and sold as capital on balance sheets, widely used as instruments of status and pleasure—while being sources of ridicule and disdain and proclaimed sub-human. In America, the enslaved lost the fight for any external right of freedom by government, except those granted by individual property holders.
But the experiences of slavery and the enslaved reveal something more. Race in the form of slavery was at the center of a global debate about the sacred nature of life, the authority and rule of a divine presence, about the relations of a highly visible and tempting secular life of wealth and ease to the unseen admonitions of logic and faith. Some men refused to hold the enslaved as property because it profaned a sacred trust.
Over time the discussions and views which once vigorously embraced the deep, centered questions of slavery and race moved away from the foundations of faith and in-depth human inquiry. No longer was the discussion filled with the terms of the celebrated principles of the gifted Greek philosophers and others who carefully charted the grand reviews of who we are, of life’s meaning, of the nature and fundamentals of truth, and how suffering, punishment and accountability are described and distributed in secular and sacred justice.
Over time, we have forgotten race had a deeper, more profound core: it was a prism into humanity, into how we thought and felt about ourselves and others; about who we were and what we celebrated; about what values were inviolate and what principles we would defend, even how we saw the image and hand of God and stewardship and mercy and how we responded to its paradox.
Race tested the limits of governments and men to envision the reach of deceit and sin. It set limits on liberty. It changes economics: in the 1781 case of the British slaver, the Zong, its insurers were ordered by a lower court to pay the costs of Africans jettisoned as cargo because the ship ran low on drinking water. The court found that even for the enslaved, the British maritime principle holds that a captain who jettisons part of his cargo in order to save the rest can claim for the loss from his insurers.
The case was so egregious that the British high court threw out the lower court’s ruling to issue an insurance payout on the dead souls of a deliberately jettisoned cargo of men, women and children, a ruling which had suddenly made slavery’s horrors benign and its greed for profits obscene.
In a three-day period on the Zong, 54 children and women, then 36 men, were lost, followed by another 42 thrown overboard (and these numbers may be too small). Many on the last two days were jettisoned after it rained!
A replica of the Zong
Chained together, 10 enslaved jumped from the Zong in protest. These captives would not settle for the lives of slaves as a condition of the death of others. They surely would not settle today for the crumbs of riches given as welfare. Even then they would not settle, before the courts ruled, ignoring precedent, that the killing of innocents was lawful.
The Zong case revealed a shameful paradox: that men could turn other men/women/children into slaves, sell them for profit; that God and law had become separated in the souls of some. It held another lesson hidden in its horror: that truth will embody change. The old status quo passes and brings new issues forward. But the new issues of freedom after slavery turned race from reality to myth.
In an irony of American thinking, the greater the progress made against racial oppression, discrimination, bias and injustice, the more the old roots that anchored the discussion were pulled up. The buying and selling of human beings, forcibly transmitting across an ocean to an alien land, is the central issue of slavery, not the work ethic of those enslaved. But powerful outside forces shape the conditions of slaves and their descendants, and their hard work to become victors over the odds seems to garner less respect.
Race became a story robbed of its epic soul. No longer debated in the words of Christ and Socrates, or the great English, French and German philosophers, or the Grimké sisters, Frederick Douglass, or the eloquent abolitionists, including England’s William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp, race, no longer a pivot point, has became a wedge of hate and blame—of power and politics. Hate and blame used denial to limit and distract its discussion. Race has evolved into a debate over stereotypes, from which there is little escape, with all sides engaging in blame. Too little, too much; too lazy, too mean; too denied, too rigged; too late, too entitled.
We have forgotten the inclusiveness with which Frederick Douglass addressed a nation from Arlington Cemetery in May 1871, when he asked, “What Shall Men Remember?”
If we ought to forget a war which has filled our land with widows and orphans, which has made stumps of men of the very flower of our youth, and sent them on the journey of life armless, legless, maimed and mutilated; which has piled up a debt heavier than a mountain of gold—swept uncounted thousands of men into bloody graves—and planted agony at a million hearthstones; I say that, if this war is to be forgotten, I ask, in the name of all things sacred, what shall men remember?
A country has forgotten and altered its meaning. The profound has been replaced by the stupid. Instead of Monroe Trotter, Henry Highland Garnet and W.E.B. DuBois’ gifted insights, we get Michele Bachmann’s mangled facts and Newt Gingrich’s Mau Mau spree. Instead of lynchings, we get leeches; even as the lynching of young men continue by gunshot rather than rope. Instead of a common humanity, we get officials who said their idea of God led them to refuse to marry those in love with members of different races. Instead of respect, we get soldiers refusing service under a legally installed black Commander-in-Chief as a matter of “conscience.”
We get a party that ignores its historic Southern strategy, directly tied to exploiting race; only to remind us that white Democrats were once racists—and the same group to which its Southern strategy appealed!
We get a news media that says the right to private conversations under free speech inoculates someone with racist views from consequences; ignoring that a doctor using drugs privately is at professional risk; a person sleeping with your spouse can be sued; a baseball player, track runner, cyclist, or weight lifter privately using drugs can be barred from competition. Donald Sterling needs to know words are acts. Words do not belong in a separate category when it comes to consequences, especially in the marketplace and under a signed agreement of authority that spells out consequences for acts of speech.
The days when property holders who claimed the ownership of people and occupied high office are gone, because law—words—created a new reality. It is perfectly permitted within the culture, when mayors, city council members, and the President call a racist myth reprehensible to take action—no society has to endorse its sin to preserve its freedom. And four hundred years of evidence and witness that includes four years of a war that produced the largest number of American war dead of any conflict, is not a rush to judgement about liberty and rights. Continue reading Race and Myth Revisited
ONE: The Classless of 2010
When this column was launched in December 2010, many now-notorious Republican governors weren’t even sworn in, but within months of taking their oaths of office they began appearing regularly here, lewd exemplars of the very worst of what their party breezily describes as “ideas.” Soon, maddeningly, it seemed as though they’d been around forever, like syphilis or Larry King.
The big story in American politics post-Dubya is not about President Obama or about Washington’s tawdry doings and even tawdrier non-doings; it’s about what’s happening in the 30 governors’ mansions currently occupied by Republicans and in the legislatures where their conservative running dogs frantically attempt to dismantle half a century of hard-won progress.
Republicans in DC have one arrow in their quiver – stubborn obstructionism – but their state-level colleagues have two: not only do they stall and subvert any and all efforts by Democrats to do much of anything, they actually manage to enshrine their own wretched ideas into law. Bad law. The freshman Republican governors of the “classless of 2010” – along with their elder GOP peers – have had a larger impact on people’s lives than this or any President could ever hope to have, and that impact has been dire. At the state level, the Republican Party’s War on Damn Near Everyone has inflicted heavy casualties.
This year and next, 38 states will hold elections for governor, and the results will be every bit as important as the results of the 2014 House and Senate elections. Women’s rights, workers’ rights, voting rights, gay rights, all rights remain at risk as long as Republicans are allowed to control anything.
Either Rick Perry has finally run out of ideas for screwing over Texas or he’s just setting his sights on screwing over something even bigger, like the entire country. Perry announced recently that he won’t seek another gubernatorial term, but there’s lots of in-progress screwing over to complete before he saddles up, rides off into the sunset, and leaves the whole shambling mess to his unfortunate successor.
Perry’s announcement was originally scheduled to be made in June but was delayed due to some of that aforementioned screwing over, in this case involving draconian restrictions on reproductive rights for women. Consistent with most legislation passed during Perry’s tenure, some of the ramifications of the bill can scarcely be guessed at now and the extent of the damage to the body politic can’t be fully assessed until the legislation has metastasized, but metastasize it surely will.
After state Senator Wendy Davis successfully filibustered SB 5, ol’ Rick just went right ahead and convened his darn self a special session of the Legislature and got the bill passed. He explained his determination simply, confirming yet again that the words “Rick Perry” and “simple” have an almost magnetic mutual attraction:
“Texas is a place where we defend life.”
The 261 folks executed on Perry’s watch might take umbrage at the statement, but them’s the breaks if you insist on being an evil-doer in a Rick-rolled state. Of course, restricting women’s rights isn’t the only thing the lame duck governor has on the docket. Almost immediately after the Supreme Court’s transparently political body blow to the Voting Rights Act, the Perry regime took pains to crow – uh, announce that it will enforce photo ID provisions, provisions previously halted by a federal court as discriminatory against minority voters.
In a line from his retirement announcement aimed at friends and supporters, Perry said:
In our time together, we have made the most of this unique opportunity to shape the future of Texas.
That they have, it’s true. And despite the relief millions of Texans will feel on seeing the east end of a westbound Rick Perry, they still have 18 more months to wait, heartsick, while he and his cronies continue to make the most of this unique opportunity. At which point those Texans will have a chance to start repairing the damage by electing a Democrat to replace him, and giving that Democrat a Legislature dominated by Democrats. Implausible? Maybe, but George Bush the Lesser being succeeded in Austin by someone even worse seemed implausible too, 12 years ago.
For a superb, though far from comprehensive, roundup of the damage Perry had done to Texas and Texans, go here.
THREE: Three of a Kind
Perry isn’t the only far-right gubernatorial goober to institutionalize rolling back women’s rights. In fact, the practice is spreading across state lines faster than this summer’s wildfires.
The execrable Scott Walker signed a bill recently that prevents a doctor from performing abortions unless said doctor has admitting privileges at a “local” hospital, and mandates – another Republican fave rave – that women seeking an abortion undergo the scarlet-letter indignity of a medically unnecessary ultrasound. Lawsuits filed by two Wisconsin abortion providers are pending. Continue reading Take Five (States’ Blights edition)
The humor in ancient wisdom and the folklore celebrated by hunters and gatherers who spent long-ago evenings and days together with family and friends found its source in paradox—that place in life and history where nothing works as it should. At least, as we think it should.
Lucille Ball was its comedic master, taking simple sketches and adding her timing, eye-rolls and physical twitches until she embodied the madness that engulfed her. It was no longer the situation that was ridiculously funny: it was her!
And nothing fixed it, either. Paradoxes, like stones in a river, can be traversed, but not solved. No engineering or spin, no rule or bill, no lie or fear will change their nature. That’s why the ancients often pointed to them as the center of not only village humor but as communal religious teaching. They require heroic courage and thinking, both inside and outside, to get past them and mark the passage.
But paradoxes have a dark side, on full exhibit in the conversations about sex and race.
Anthony Weiner offers a paradox—more pathetic than funny or religious—until you realize that his situation is not an “either/or” of guilt and penitence of personality and politics, of bad judgment and stubbornness, but is a sequel, with parts one and two. His two-step process jointly connects to the biggest voyeuristic thrill in the history of American politics. Therein is his paradox; he is using politics to further the thrill!
What’s bigger and more dangerous to personal standing and the sanctity of the inner self than sending high-definition pictures of personal sex organs to unmet strangers over the internet?
Doubling down and knowingly running for one of the nation’s highest municipal offices, the high-profile mayor of a city that is a global beacon, and announcing at the announcement that more scandal is to come, then reveling in it when it does, dragging his family along, and refusing to step down, in order to draw the maximum public attention possible to what began as a private, prurient act and turning it into a daily outing, seen in the eyes of the hundreds he encounters without shame of his being a bad boy.
So with Weiner, rethink the prevailing view: switch the roles of the election and the exposure and see them as connected, evolving stages. The campaign’s main purpose is for flaunting his flaunting. Remember the announcement of his candidacy also included the announcement of “more incidents” to come. Note there is no platform, team, volunteers.
Now focus on the campaign as the second stage as a two-part event; the first being the private, digital exposure; the second being the public, personal exposure—the largest of its kind in history, within a public crucible that heightens the exposure, contact and exuberant feeling—even as the polls drop.
His running for mayor is a part of the earlier event, a vehicle for widening the data and getting the feedback so craved; a continuum of the risk-taking exposure morphed and zoomed to the biggest possible public stage—the ultimate danger, the non-repeatable, once-in-a-lifetime thrill, driven not by plan but impulse that laid out the order for it to fall into place.
It’s not for politics that he will not let go. It’s for the same reason he sent the pictures; for him it’s the same thrill/danger/defiant compulsion, larger, grander, a public naughty.
Notice it doesn’t bother him in the least.
Built on denial and blame, the GOP relies by intention and instinct on paradox. Theirs is a cultural strategy that relies on built-in paradoxes leveraged by misdirection, framed around denial, resolved by cognitive dissonance and the plausibility of blame.
Slavery is among the biggest of America’s historic paradoxes and is used to leverage racism and disenfranchisement today.
I see a neat match between our current place and the landed gentry who decided selling human beings from auction blocks was a capital idea—after trading with corrupt leaders for their capture, and disposing of those who died en route by dumping the bodies into the sea as great whites tore the flesh off the falling bones. Nothing defined America’s political parties, inside and outside, the rich and poor, and the common collective consciousness, its “governance,” like weekly arriving barks and schooners of Africans. Law, will and make-believe turned them into a half-million enslaved. Continue reading More Race and Sex
Have Republicans forgotten they were elected to govern? Not when it comes to money and power. Money, especially. It’s being used in South Carolina to raise support for Lindsay Graham, up for reelection next year, by touting an immigration solution that matches his work with the Senate bill introduced by the Gang of Eight. Now in committee, the bill is the object of scorn by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions. But Graham says he, “believes in it with all his heart.”
The same 501(c)(4) money supporting Graham opposes Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, a moderate from an established political family, the kind of Democrat that once won easily in South Carolina, as Bill Clinton once did in Arkansas. A 30-second commercial opposes Sheheen by saying he wants South Carolina to be the only Southern state to accept Obamacare. The spot openly touts the region’s solidarity with regression.
Win or lose, Republicans have put buzz words in place. Now at the state level, voters hear the bell and respond. This is one reason why Republicans repeatedly raise Benghazi. It’s not only to tie Hillary Clinton to the incident, but to pound into it a connotation of failure, weaknesses and cowardice. Hence the angry testimony of State Department officers in a recent hearing which added nothing to what was known except more reports and confessions of anger.
The white men expressed their anger at being told troops would add to the confusion, especially when conditions were not clearly understood. The Republican purpose is to add anger and fear—to turn Benghazi into a brand like Obamacare. All one need do is hear the word, and a parade of negatives immediately comes to mind for the uninformed majority.
If Benghazi is in, military sexual assault is out. Silence reigns about a problem so severe that both males and females in a US uniform are more likely to be sexually assaulted than killed in combat. The Republican concern for mission-readiness and discipline so displayed when gays were allowed to serve openly does not extend to violence and force within inter-gender (and intra-gender) relationships.
Any civilian organization facing year-on-year statistics for sexual assaults at the level of the military would be gravely criticized and shut down. Yet the focus of Congressional national security is on e-mails about Benghazi talking points, while the rampant, growing, out-of-control epidemic of military sexual assaults undermines military working order—widespread reports cite the difficulties of working with your rapist—and puts the nation’s security at risk. And brings home a lot of hurt.
Last year, 26,000 assaults were committed, by the military’s own score. The Air Force Chief of Staff discussed it in a Senate subcommittee hearing as the result of a “hook-up” culture. Yet the Air Force’s officer in charge of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention was charged two weeks ago with groping an unknown woman in a Virginia parking lot, and was arrested by civilian authorities. Yesterday, the Army reported the arrest of an officer at Fort Hood, a Texas base, who was the Sexual Assault Prevention Office Coordinator. He is being held on multiple charges of abusive sexual misconduct.
Outrage? The tempest over revised talking points and e-mails also ignores three of the most important global developments in recent weeks: the factory fire in Bangladesh that left more than 1,100 workers dead, calling into question issues of global working conditions and safety; the massacres in Northern Nigerian villages by the Nigerian army; and the conviction of Guatemala’s former president and military dictator, 86-year-old Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide. Continue reading Hooking Up the Wrong Way
Moral charges no longer have political meaning! Violate any of God’s Supreme 10 or men and women’s high ideal of public trust, or the simple statues of common law, and after taking the state plane overseas to see your mistress, paying the highest ethics fine in the history of the state, run for office by campaigning against a cardboard cutout which is not even the image of your opponent—and in South Carolina District 1, you can win by 10 points!
Ideas and people connect values and actions. Cardboard cutouts and moral charges are the new symbols of faith for a coast that was once America’s richest locale, a coast that generated the ideal of the American Dream that now has been consumed by its contradiction—not overrun by the contradictory presence of Africans enslaved that dream left out as it created its riches from their labor, but by the corrosive greed of entitlement that ignored their humanity. That greed has overwhelmed all common sense and decency in South Carolina 1. It threatens the country.
Tuesday’s special election in SC-1 was about Mark Sanford. Conducted in two stages, a Republican primary, then the special election, the electoral process presented a badly flawed, unrepentant individual continually exercising bad judgment—Thursday, he appears in local court to answer charges of trespassing for entering his former wife’s house without her consent, after being previously warned—and the voters sanctioned his passive mean-spiritedness as their ideal of character and to represent their politics.
But every action has the seeds of change in its core. Those seeds are ideals that stretch to the arc of the universe, Dr. King reminded us. Let Mark Sanford have his day, his win, his office, his place as the symbol of our worst.
That symbol is but a symptom of a larger, growing illness that is taking many forms. When the Air Force’s top officer in charge of preventing sexual assaults is charged by civilian police for drunkenly grabbing, in a parking lot, the breasts and buttocks of a woman whom he did not know, Houston has a bigger problem than the personal conduct of a corrupt congressman or the failed positive of a career military officer.
Today, the AP reported the Air Force removed the launch authority from 17 officers in charge of the nation’s most powerful intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles, siloed in Minot, South Dakota. An April inspection found multiple readiness violations, from failing to obey orders and a lack of decorum to potential compromises of the missile’s launch codes and ignoring safety precautions.
Yesterday, the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assaults. By its own statistics, the US military—an organization trained in the highest ideals of honor and conduct—has a higher rate of sexual assault than any civilian organization. Continue reading A Profile of Flaws
Now that their nine-day recess is over, picture members of both houses of Congress returning to Washington refreshed, energetic, eager to tackle the nation’s woes, and ready to work in a genuinely bipartisan fashion for the good of their constituents. Now picture the exact opposite, which is what will happen this week as the 113th Congress resumes. Oh, and if you’re sick and tired of the phrase “debt ceiling,” you might want to go on recess yourself.
The House Homeland Security Committee begins hearings Thursday on the Boston Marathon bombings. The hearings will continue until House Republican leadership is satisfied that they’ve come up with a way to blame everything on President Obama.
Meanwhile, deceased suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s remains remain uninterred, while Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors continues its search for a cemetery to take them. Surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s three public defenders, meanwhile, might be forced to take three-week furloughs before September 30, the close of the federal budget year, due to sequestration.
Jim Porter looks to become the NRA’s new president tomorrow, succeeding David Keene. Is Porter qualified, you ask? Well, a ThinkProgress item on Friday looked at a June 2012 speech Porter gave to the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, in which he referred to the Civil War as “the War of Northern Aggression,” described Barack Obama as a “fake president” and called Eric Holder “rabidly un-American.” Yes, Porter sounds like the perfect guy for the position. And don’t worry; NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre isn’t going anywhere. Nor will he ever shut the hell up. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/6/13