“They did everything except eat us.”

Every so often, I’m reminded how bad slavery was. Consider: For generations, Americans had the right to own other people as chattels. They could work them, rape them, torture them, and kill them with impunity. Earlier this year, I interviewed George Walker, a nonagenarian American composer. His grandmother was an ex-slave. She had had two husbands. She lost the first when he was sold at auction.

Walker knew this grandmother, very well. She never talked about slavery — ever. Except for one time, when her grandson’s curiosity got the better of him and he asked her about it. She uttered one sentence, only: “They did everything except eat us.”

That is the reality that the Confederates fought to preserve. That is the reality that they seceded from the Union to preserve. Dress it up all you want — states’ rights and all — but that is the core of it.

–Jay Nordlinger, Seeing the Confederacy Clear

Reflect, for a moment, on the fact that someone like Nordlinger has to put up with, as he says elsewhere in his National Review column, accusations of “moral preening” and “virtue signaling” for writing something like this: “I don’t care, frankly. I will not let my hatred of political correctness, and love of tradition, obscure the Confederacy or perfume its symbols. If that makes me a bad conservative — well, tough.”

Let that sink in. I mean, good on Nordlinger for writing that column, good on National Review for publishing it, and good on every other right-wing human being in America who has retained the capacity for moral judgment. But it is profoundly pathetic that Nordlinger can expect to be dubbed a “bad conservative” for acknowledging the plain fact that Confederate monuments are monuments to political evil. This is the reality of Trump’s America in 2017.


A demagogue’s playbook

All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be… The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.

The above excerpt is from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925/26). Richard J. Evans quotes it in The Coming of the Third Reich (2003; p. 168), along with this: “The people in their overwhelming majority are so feminine by nature and attitude that sober reasoning determines their thoughts and actions far less than emotion and feeling.”

A moral restructuring of the health economy.

More from Vann R. Newkirk II:

Trump’s rise came as a preacher of the prosperity gospel. His promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with just about nothing in particular relied as much on dissatisfaction with the current law as it did the delirious optimism of prosperity, and the idea that the real way to better America was to make life better for healthy and wealthy people, and to further link the two.

Will coal miners, unemployed auto workers, and small farmers in Appalachia fare better under the AHCA? Almost certainly not now. But if they work hard enough and have enough virtue, maybe. And at the end of the tunnel of aspiration is the favor that the AHCA’s brazen regressive health tax provides for the healthy and wealthy. It’s a moral restructuring of the health economy.

As Newkirk says elsewhere in his article, most Republicans aren’t as intellectually honest accidentally truthful as Brooks. They argue that their ideas of health care are somehow will make life better for the poor and the sick. I have no doubt that some Republicans have even persuaded themselves that this is, indeed, the case. “To be fair,” Brooks himself says in the unedited interview, “…I think our society under those circumstances”–that is, people being sick “through no fault of their own”– “needs to help.” He probably thinks that the AHCA is helping. Bless his shriveled little heart.

Mo Brooks made a Kinsley gaffe, which is to say that he fully comprehends what he’s talking about and inadvertently demonstrated his competence to a public that should be properly horrified at the prospect that he meant what he said and has the power to do something about it. Democrats seem to think that the AHCA is a major political blunder. I’m not convinced. Voters were willing to support a House Speaker who baldly proclaims that wealth = freedom and a president who espouses, according to the very same House Speaker, the “textbook definition of racism.” The only question facing low-income Republican voters with pre-existing conditions, I suspect, is which scapegoat is going to bear the blame next for the consequences of their own political choices. I guess we’ll find out.

An actual statement from our president’s press secretary:


via Talking Points Memo


Always already guilty

There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

–William Deresiewicz, On Political Correctness

A is A

The Gospel According to Paul Ryan:

Wealth = Freedom.

Or, to paraphrase George Orwell, all people are free, some are just more free than others. (And the pigs tend to prefer it that way.)

“I am obviously missing something.”

I should be clear about this: I don’t believe in magic of any kind, in any form. If I thought magic was real I would be doing it, not writing about it. But I don’t.

For people who don’t believe in magic I recommend Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. It’s the best book I can think of. For people who do believe in magic: maybe you could recommend a few books for me, because I am obviously missing something.

–Lev Grossman, interviewed by Emily Temple

Enigma and apocalypse

When Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx, the creature flings itself off a cliff to its death; conversely, his inability to solve the riddle of his own birth leads to his mother’s suicide and his own self-blinding and exile. Similarly, when in The Libation Bearers Orestes comes to kill his mother Clytemnestra and a servant cries out “The dead are killing the living!” — because Orestes was believed to be dead — Clytemnestra replies, “Ah, a riddle. I do well at riddles.” But she hasn’t done well: she never penetrated the riddling words of Cassandra, or she would not have acted as she did. And now her understanding of her own peril arrives too late to save her life.

The word there translated as “riddle” is ainigma. A form of that word appears also in the New Testament — only once, but in an especially famous verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror dimly” — en ainigmati, in obscurity, enigmatically, as though riddled to — “but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The key point here, I think, is that this is not a condition we can remedy through our own efforts — not even the most ingenious. In order to “see face to face,” to “know fully,” we must wait along with the whole Creation which (paraphrasing the second half of Romans 8 here) awaits its deliverance from enslavement to decay. When we are all delivered, redeemed, when the expectation of the children of God is realized, when the “great mystery” — Ephesians 5:21, not just a mysterion but a mega mysterion! — of the marriage of Christ and his church is consummated in glory, all of that will happen as an unveiling, a revelation: apokalypsin (Romans 8:21).

–Alan Jacobs, Tolkein’s riddles

Science fiction capabilities, not scientific capabilities

Many of Rid’s tales unfold in the Defense Department and in the General Electric factory in Schenectady, New York, where Vietnam-driven businessmen, engineers, and government men created (unsuccessful) prototypes of robot weapons, and where Kurt Vonnegut sets his first novel, the cybernetics-inspired Player Piano. It turns out, although Rid does not say this in so many words, that science fiction has been as instrumental in the rise of the digital as any set of switches. Consider, for example, the creation of the Agile Eye helmet for Air Force pilots who need to integrate “cyberspace” (their term) with meatspace. The officer in charge reports, according to Rid, “We actually used the same industrial designers that had designed Darth Vader’s helmet.” This fluid movement between futuristic Hollywood design, science fiction, and the DOD is a recurring feature of Rise of the Machines. Take the NSA’s internal warning that “[l]aymen are beginning to expect science fiction capabilities and not scientific capabilities” in virtual reality. Or Rid’s account of the so-called “cypherpunks” around Timothy May. Their name was cribbed from the “cyberpunk” science fiction genre (“cypher” refers to public-key encryption), and they were inspired by novels like Vernor Vinge’s True Names (1981), one on a list of recommended books for the movement on which not a single nonfiction text figures.

–Leif Weatherby, The Cybernetic Humanities