All posts by sol.invictus.etc@gmail.com

Why the Modern Nuclear Project Will Persist: At Least Until We Focus Action On Why It Is Persisting

In Hiroshima, Japan, seventy-one years ago exactly from the midnight hour that I’m writing this, most people were asleep except for the night owls and diligent lovers.  I’d guess that most especially the middle school students would uniformly be deep in the throes of the land of Nod, since on the morrow—August 6, a school day—they’d all be up bright and early to continue their physically taxing work in the August swampy swelter of the riverine confluences that underlay Hiroshima’s existence as a city.

For weeks before the sixth, they had been dismantling some half of the area’s housing stock, in anticipation of rumored American bombing raids that everyone assumed would be incendiary in nature, like the many such attacks that had decimated Tokyo and other strategic industrial centers more central to the war effort than sleepy Hiroshima.  Out in the sun and air, minimally clothed, working primarily in and around the city center, they were exhibiting the dutiful patriotism and obedient mutuality that were part and parcel of the meaning of being Japanese.

"Evening Glow over Hiroshima," woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi
“Evening Glow over Hiroshima,” woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi

Alas, very few of them would survive past 8:15 the next morning, at most a couple score eleven-to-fourteen-year-old kids from all the academies and classrooms of the entire area.  What dreams they had that night of August 5th would form quite a novel, or play, or book of poetry, or documentary of pending loss.

E.O. Wilson, in his The Social Conquest of Earth, points out that an ability to ‘put oneself in another’s shoes’ is at the root of much that is best about our species—empathy and compassion and altruism and such.  My inability to escape from this sense of dreaming along on the last night of life was part of what led me, lo these decades ago, in 1992, to swear an oath that every year as the period of August 6th through 9th came along, I’d say something and otherwise take some sort of action about why this brief interlude is arguably the most crucial commemoration for humankind to acknowledge, if survival means anything to us.

No matter what, in the fullness of time, the certainty is inescapable that something much, much worse than Hiroshima will happen to humankind if we insist on maintaining now-thermonuclear arsenals of megadeath.  The most obvious reason that this ultimately inevitable mass collective suicide continues to hang over our heads like a looming time bomb is that we haven’t figured out how to stop it, how to leave the Nuclear Fuel Fool Cycle behind.  For me, not knowing how to begin effecting such a monumental shift in the direction of life, I have just elected to write and produce and perform each year whatever I could manage, to bring attention back to this hideous pass in human history.

Over the two dozen years that I’ve engaged in this commemorative exercise, I’ve encouraged people to take note of many things: John Hersey’s New Yorker issue that led to his book that bore the city’s name as its title; Gar Alperowitz’s work—from Atomic Diplomacy to The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb—and the outpouring of scholarship and analysis of his now legion followers, who have unshakably demonstrated that the choice to incinerate two cities had little or even nothing to do with ending the war and ‘saving lives’ and everything to do with firstconveying a sharp jab at the Soviet Union and second examining, clinically and experimentally, the new weapons system that the scientists and engineers and skilled workers and industrial laborers of the Manhattan Engineering District had assembled for use as the Soviets prepared to invade Northern Japan; and plenty else besides have I proffered over the course of nearly a quarter century.  I’ve offered this information and guidance with narratives and speaking gigs and Power Point presentations.

But, as I said, what has impelled me most powerfully has not been this intellectual product, though I am above all else a nerd who would, like Dr. Faust, sell my soul for complete knowledge of all that is.  What has driven me has been that sense of identification that Professor Wilson and others have discussed as so central to human consciousness.

After I had read, in countless accounts, about the hundreds of thousands of civilian victims, who would melt or bleed or die from crushing blows or expire in the conflagration that attended this first skirmish in the first nuclear war, or who would live and carry the vision of that hellish day with them to the end of their days, cinders of the atomic age, these middle school students, these old people, these Catholic priests, these American prisoners-of-war, these surviving Hibakusha so wormed their way into my psyche that I had to take some tangible step, if only of the sort that a writer is wont to deploy.  So I wrote and spoke and produced.

A couple of readily available recent examples of my following up on my promise appear here, and here.  I also researched and presented or published materials about the Modern Nuclear Project generally, most recently here.  Exactly halfway through this interlude, however, by 2004, after only a little more than ten years of coming up with something to do or say, or doand say, every early August, I had nevertheless come to a conjunction where I might all-too-willingly have shrugged and just published or purveyed whatever I’d already created during my first decade of activity.

“What’s the use?” I thought, of innovation or addition.  Lack of audience, paucity of impact, the ongoing emphasis, by our erstwhile rulers and masters, on nuclear options in energy and weaponry, all led me to despair ever helping to bring about any actual change.  “When I feel inspired,” I nodded to myself, “I’ll try something new.”  Otherwise, I sighed, recycling would serve to prove my fidelity.

In the event, though, a chance attendance at an art exhibit, and an even more random tutoring adventure, reinvigorated my commitment to stick to my original vow.  This burst of energy and renewal of my solemn pledge all happened as a result, and in the immediate aftermath, of attending an exhibit at Emory University in Atlanta.

There, I had a chance to meet, to listen to, and to interview one of those ‘lucky’ junior high school students who miraculously survived nearly being cooked alive.  She lived through months of radiation sickness and its aftermath.  She was neither bitter nor shrill; she was merely ardent and diligent in declaiming the possibility, still, of Homo Sapiens’ thriving and survival.

She was one of those children, one of the score or so of preteen survivors out of a cohort of thousands; her mission in life had become simple: to travel and tell of her experience.  At the Candler School of Theology, she addressed a multitude, and she spoke directly to my heart.  Miyoko Matsubara’s scars made her despise her life for years; she fought off cancer, unlike her firefighter father, who after an interval of a decade or so succumbed to leukemia.  Her words, of a ‘bright morning turned to endless night,’ and Emory’s exhibition of imagery that Hibakusha artists had created, seared themselves into my memory with such ferocity that I came alive to my promise once more.

This happened in October more or less.  And I set immediately to work to rectify my tardiness in coming up with fresh material. That year of my enervation, 2004, I thus only created my ‘annual pilgrimage’ in November, several months late.  More than ‘better late than never,’ my thinking when I did so was, “I’ve got to do something, no matter how paltry my contribution.”  Following my completion of that delayed assignment, in a seemingly unrelated happenstance, I soon enough found myself with a new student.

She was on some sort of a post-doctoral fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control.  Since she was from Okinawa, she needed help in improving the flow of her English on the page.  She had gotten her doctorate from Hiroshima University.  She was, I learned, as gooseflesh crawled up my neck and arms, an acquaintance of a Hibakusha with whom I was more than vaguely familiar, the poet Sadako Kurihara.

Before long, my pupil shared with me Kurihara’s most famous poem.  “New Life” evoked what living through hell was like.  When I read the English version, out loud, I intuited that parts of it were not exactly satisfactory, as translation, to my new friend and English student; she wrote down some suggestions for me in this regard.

We talked this over on several occasions, and the result was that I rewrote Kurihara’s stanzas according to more graphic and heartfelt specifications.  For better or worse, this exercise implanted in me anew an inextricable commitment.  The power of these verses makes me refer to them again and again, to wit:

nagasaki_hibakusha1

New Life
Night–pressing on a broken building’s basement
Filled with sprawling, wretched A-bomb victims–
Darkened the feeble candles which were the only light
To show a room overflowing with bodies
More broken even than their housing.

Sweat and blood and death subsumed my nose,
While moans and keening cries for mercy
Battered my ears with dose after dose after dose
Of the writhing pain that suffused me and all I touched,
Until I thought, “we all must die.”

Suddenly, in this basement turned to living hell,
A young girl’s voice sounded and transformed the suffering.
Wonder filled, she said, “The baby’s coming!” and thus, still,
In spite of everything, a young woman’s labor caused all to forget
Their own pain because a newborn might come forth to save us yet.

What could we do, though, having not even matches
That might decrease the forbidding darkness of our end?
From a woman’s form that had tossed and turned in agony,
Whose wails had punctuated the fetid dirge of our deathsong,
Came simply this: “I am a midwife.”

“Before I die, I can bring her child to life,” she said with a sigh.
The truth of her promise quite quickly came to pass, and
A new child emerged in the inferno’s smoke and smolder,
While the midwife, her wounds still weeping blood,
expired upon my shoulder.

Her promise is the one we live by still.
Even in the fires of hell, as life’s blood seeps away,
We will bring forth new life, even unto death.
With birth to tie ourselves to Earth even as we go,
Life is our vow, life is our will.

 

Tragic wastage and soulless murder ought to be enough to change our ways.  Knowledge of diplomatic venality in the service of imperial plunder and industrial profiteering ought to prove adequate as an inducement to alter our path.  Learning more and more and more about the sinister and insidious and nearly eternal toxicity of Uranium and Plutonium, not to mention the ecocidal potential of nuclear explosions or nuclear accidents themselves, ought to divert us from the dance of death that our President has just funded, to the tune of a trillion dollars of American treasure, as a twenty year project of additionally upgrading our already sublime and universal instruments of total genocide.

But awareness has not worked to turn our direction from self-destruction.  What we ought is not what transpires; rather what is expedient and lucrative and empowering for those in command comes to pass year after year, decade after decade.

So this year a new thought occurred to me.  Maybe we fail to understand why these satanic weapons and the cult of nuclear electricity that accompanies them are so seductive and ineluctable to the powers that be.  I’ve written about these reasons, but I’ll do so with additional fervor in the coming period.

For now, for this brief outreach, I’ll just state this.  Essentially, the driving need for ‘safe investments’ remains supreme as more and more dollars pile up with no apparent outlet for the current that this currency wants to create.  Finding long term harbors for keeping this cash is therefore paramount, portals that require elite control, that magically subsume all the surplus to which plutocrats want to cling while the various underlying systems’ development and deployment necessitate technocratic oversight, increased militarization, and the manifestation of tighter and tighter police-state protocols.

Basically, in other words, under such a rubric, capital and profit mandate choosing every nuclear option available.  The ‘leaders of the free world’ have no choice but to embrace such nuclear nuances, which means that their competitors—whether Russian or Chinese or Indian or otherwise—will ultimately also have no choice.

How could recognition of this pattern, finally and hope against hope, make a difference?  Here’s one way.  If we notice, clearly and without equivocation, that the business of business will always center on thermonuclear weapons and at the same time on the electricity production that relies on the same atomic reactions and thereby creates components for the bombs of power that the incorporated world demands, then an ah-ha moment is plausible, like the ability to see in the growing light of dawn the features of a landscape that had theretofore been unrecognizableSusquehanna_steam_electric_station

Capitalism’s continued operation cannot break free of fission and fusion and all the other capital intensive tricks that for a time both cure its contradictions and consolidate its imprimatur.  This link guarantees in time that nuclear war will happen. That nuclear war equals likely extinction is obvious.  Therefore, human survival has as one of its first commandments this: we must end the rule of the bourgeoisie, or we will all burn till all that remains of us is irradiated ash.

Is that enough?  Is that adequate inducement?  Time will tell, albeit the clock says two or three minutes to midnight.  The hour is late.  Time is short, at least if we imagine our children, and our children’s children, as beings who will have the opportunity to dream, as did the children of Hiroshima as dawn drew nigh amid early morning dewfall August 6, precisely seven decades and one year ago.

Jim Hickey has written for decades about complex historical, political-economic, and social phenomena; he has a special interest in nuclear matters, imperialism, labor history. Email: spindoctorjimbo@gmail.com

http://www.justmeans.com/blogs/energy-life-weaponry-and-choice-interrelational-reflections-on-a-hiroshimanagasaki-anniversary

First published in http://worldorganizationofwriters.org/2016/08/05/why-the-modern-nuclear-project-will-persist/

An Undead and Omnipresent Past: a Selection of Southern-History-and-Culture-Briefs

A Mélange of Briefs of ‘Dixie’ & Culture & History

 

In a life of texts, so many different stories have come and gone that the variety can only lead to a swirl of half-remembered recognition and hopeful affirmation: that wasn’t so bad now, was it?  In the scheme of things, my inclination has always been to ‘go deep.’

Not only do my proclivities cause me to want really to grapple with a story and explain what the fuck happened and why, in something like thorough fashion, but I also basically insist that—lacking readers willing to go in-depth and writers willing to provide such probing narratives—understanding will remain a credulous fantasy under the most favorable circumstances.  My critics, bless their hearts, have long caviled, “You couldn’t write anything coherent and useful and short if you tried.”

This has always been wrong, but only when I’ve gotten paid or discerned other opportunities in scribbling briefs have I been able to justify the greater effort and more paltry results that attend keeping things diminutive.  Examiner is an exploitative trap, in my humble opinion, but, as is so often the case, I gave the site the benefit of the doubt for a month or so.

The end result was that I created fifteen or twenty four-hundred-word historical notes that in some way touched on my location at that time in Atlanta.  Voila!  Here are eight of those items; the others will follow in due time.

These little essays deal with issues of culture and media and color and more.  They are gems.  Anyone who would like to come to grips with the world that we inhabit—a place in which the conundrums of the South play an outsized role—might easily make a poorer choice than to examine these pieces from the Examiner.

In any case, they proffer something akin to ideation and insight and argument.  I recommend them without reservation: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

 

An Initial Sally

Immigrant ‘Invaders’ in the Days of Our Great, Great Grandparents

 Reposted from Examiner.com

Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover
Trail of Tears sign Georgia Bar Journal cover

These days, along I-20 from Atlanta to Birmingham, State Troopers seek out ‘illegal immigrants,’ trying to catch and eject them from ‘America.’ Eighteen decades ago, along substantially the same route, the leaders of Georgia—who had recently inaugurated the country’s first ‘Gold Rush’ in Dahlonega–and Alabama—who were readying river valley properties for slaves to work–were preparing to throw out local native inhabitants so that the conquering European immigrants could do whatever they liked. Those who like ironic history will love today’s story.rect3336In mid October in Alabama, the local Choctaw Indians were finishing preparations for the first Indian Removals, approved by the U.S. Congress in May, 1830.Nitikechi, the Choctaw leader, was to call the forced relocation “a trail of tears and death.”rect3336Famed French commentator de-Tocqueville wrote his mother about this situation. “Americans of the United States,,,, reasonable and unprejudiced, and great philanthropists to boot, have taken it into their heads, as did the Spaniards, that God had given them the new world and its inhabitants in full ownership.” He described “an air of ruin and destruction” as the U.S., ‘reasonable’ in its processes, carried out this “final and irrevocable” eviction of Alabama’s rightful owners, including a 110 year old woman, starving to death, surrounded by grandchildren. “To leave one’s country at that age to seek one’s fortune in a foreign land, what misery!”rect3336In Georgia, meanwhile, across the Northern reaches of present day metro-Atlanta and stretching into other jurisdictions, authorities were preparing to dismantleCherokee settlements. The Legislature, having made communicating with Cherokees a crime, was planning to divvy up these properties among eager Whites when missionary Samuel Worcester, whom the gendarmes had chased into Tennessee the previous Summer, returned to bury his deceased daughter.
rect3336Catching Worcester in Gwinnett County again, these ‘police’ arrested him and brought him to trial in September, 1831. He was en route to Milledgeville in mid-October, where a judge had sentenced him to spend “four years at hard labor” for the offense of talking to the legal owners of Georgia.rect3336This travesty of justice resulted in one of America’s most famous Supreme Court cases, Worcester v. Georgia, that both ordered the preacher freed and demanded that the Peach State respect Indian property. President Andrew Jackson defied the High Court, however, and led his crew of U.S. immigrants on their merry way, throwing out the original inhabitants from throughout the South.rect3336

A More Contemporary, & Mediated, Moment

Every Day in History Is Important and Interesting–‘Hippy’ Media in Atlanta

Reposted from Examiner.com

"Great Speckled Bird" Banner http://www.greatspeckledbird.org/history.html
“Great Speckled Bird” Banner http://www.greatspeckledbird.org/history.html

Thirty four years ago this month in Atlanta, a young alternative media Phoenix breathed its last. The Great Speckled Bird (GSB) was just shy of nine years old. It distributed over four hundred editions, becoming weekly within six months of opening, chronicling an unexpected ‘New South’—a Dixie that promoted parity for women, legal drugs, free love, racial equality, peaceful foreign relations, gay rights, and a 100% “PARTY!” attitude that guaranteed loyalty among its core audiences.rect3336Many mottoes fit this ‘freak flag’ of ‘60’s-era ‘Peachtree’ cultural rebellion. But the publication’s clearly emerge from this poster, prominent in GSB’s wandering office. “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be and what would I do?”rect3336That partying and naughtiness would appeal to teens and footloose adults would amaze no one. But the paper grew out of a 1967 antiwar newsletterpublished at Emory. GSB’s army of volunteers and occasional paid employees often ‘crashed’ in common quarters with SCLC and SDS staff; MLK’s chauffer, recruited from Oberlin, supposedly ‘tripped the light fantastic’ with GSB aficionados. This coterie of comrades believed in parties and purpose.rect3336Such transcendental rebelliousness could hardly enthrall Georgia’s political powers. “Hassles” beset GSB from the outset. Threats of litigation for ‘obscenity’ were common; the Post Office vowed to impede shipment; police and other ‘toughs’ harassed the street-level sales force on which the paper depended.rect3336Worst of all were the intimations of physical abuse. A firebombing in 1972 culminated this atmosphere of tension and intimidation. Despite evidence suggesting involvement of identifiable sources, the police never filed charges against anyone.rect3336Nevertheless, GSB persisted. This was during a time, as well, when infamous FBI “COINTELPRO” efforts infiltrated and subverted radical efforts, leading them astray and destroying them. Again, however, GSB weathered these storms, along with other progressive media icons, like Radio Free Georgia.rect3336So why did GSB expire in October, 1976? Students everywhere should study this question, if they hope either to understand how the past creates the present, or to bring about a future different from the present.rect3336Manufacturing Consent, a classic investigation of media and power, would be a good place to begin such investigation. Also, students could look into the vast written record, and create new oral histories, about this fascinating media phenom that died just over three decades ago.rect3336

Culture, Sport, Color, & Crashing Gates of Prohibited Contact

History Is Important and Interesting: An Atlanta ‘Sweet Science’ Moment

Reposted from Examiner.com

jack Johnson's Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher's Guide
jack Johnson’s Wives and Women Friends PBS Teacher’s Guide

From his Atlanta compound, Evander Holyfield testifies to profound religious faith. Similar spiritual intensity erupts during training sessions, legendary in their ferocity. This focused fury surges most obviously in the boxing ring, where he has out-thought, out-trained, and out-boxed opponents.rect3336Twenty years ago, this scientist of the boxing ring pummeled “Buster” Brown into submission in Nevada during two and a half brief rounds. In the decades since, Holyfield banked $150 million, went through a bitter divorce, and lost his 109 room Peachtree City mansion to foreclosure.rect3336The “sweet science” pits highly honed hitting experts against each other, in an ancient fighting-art that emerged in its ‘modern’ form in 1681, when a British Duke showcased his butler’s battling his butcher. More than any other, this ‘sport,’ in which working class ‘blokes’ wail away at each other for prizes, illustrates both the spectacle and the social conflict, or competition, that the society surrounding boxing promotes.rect3336This process is a huge business, in which people pay either $50 to watch African Americans annihilate each other on television, or $5,000 to watch the same event ‘ringside.’ For many decades now too, almost all ‘heavyweight’ title bouts have matched one big Black man against another.rect3336This was not always so, however. For decades, the front lines of ‘racist’ conflict paralleled boxing. The play and movie, “The Great White Hope,” and the documentary film and history, Unforgivable Blackness, for example, accurately portray the travails of “flash-n***er” Jack Johnson, whom both government and business hounded after he started whipping White men, marrying White women, and generally carrying on like a free agent in ‘Jim Crow’ America.rect3336Joyce Carol Oates, legendary chronicler of boxing’s glorious contradictions, notes in her book review that “ostensibly passionate socialist” Jack London decried the beating that Johnson delivered to his outclassed opponent in 1908. “London was disturbed not so much by the new champion’s victory as by the evident glee with which he had imposed his will upon the hapless white man: ‘A golden smile tells the story, and that golden smile was Johnson’s.’”rect3336A crushing right cross twenty years ago sent one big Black fighter to the mat. The story of that Vegas contest, the tale of the ‘sport’ that put two giants there as antagonists, the surrounding threads of faith and money and social history invite students to examine a character like Evander Holyfield deeply enough to understand themselves better.

 

Grassroots Engagement & the Necessity of Political Rebellion

Every Day in History Is Important, Interesting: Don West & Highlander Center

Reposted from Examiner.com

Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover
Young Don West on a Motorcycle Northern Illinois University, Book Cover

Seventy-eight years ago, Don West, Myles Horton, and James Dombrowski had just embarked on the odyssey of the Highlander Folk School(HFS), which has played a key behind-the-scenes role in supporting civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice in the South since 1932. Of course, students now almost never hear about HFS, even though it still operates in a Smoky Mountain, New Market, Tennessee home.rect3336
Least heralded of HFS’s founding trio, Don West’s North Georgia youth included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at his grandfather’s knee. He attended Berry College in Rome, a wild collegiate saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Reds.rect3336
When West fulminated a mass rally against the campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him. He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest “against campus paternalism,” which also culminated in his expulsion, though his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon graduating, he enrolled at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School in 1929. rect3336
James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. “As a student West visited Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated curricula based on tradition and cultural heritage.” Because this visionary Dane “believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment,” the schools that he facilitated, like HFS, have fostered social transformation toward justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.rect3336
West identified with this when he encountered this North European model, in the process also solidifying his intention to work with Myles Horton. West only remained on board at HFS for a year, however.rect3336
He came back to Georgia, where he promoted locally-based and student-centered education in Hall County during WWII. Later, teaching at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, he faced constant denunciation for his ‘communist sympathies’ from the Atlanta Constitution’s famous editor, Ralph McGill. rect3336
These attacks drove him from Georgia, but he and his wife eventually founded the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, West Virginia. It still carries on West’s work, validating community values and encouraging a critical view of the way society works. Though students may never have heard of Don West, just such fascinating characters are readily accessible, proffering invaluable lessons about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Rebellion’s Seeds & the Possible Growth of Social Transformation

Every Day in History Is Interesting & Important: ‘Loving Your Enemies’

Reposting from Examiner.com

MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center
MLK Red-Baiting Billboard Highlander Center

Fifty-three years ago, MLK was sick; he went to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist to preach anyway. He felt a critical need to deliver his November, 1957 message. Most commentators on this famous sermon focus on King’s ‘love-your-enemies’ prescription. But MLK’s purpose in preaching-while-sick was more pointed than moral generality. His was a profoundly political hallelujah.

He contended that Americans failed to honor democracy. “(W)e have often taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. …(W)e have often … trampled over individuals and races with the iron feet of oppression. … (T)hrough our Western powers we have perpetuated colonialism and imperialism.”

One of the ‘enemies’ that he warned against hating here was Russia. One source for such insistence was the Highlander Center, where Rosa Parks studied just before she made her historic 12/1/1955 decision to break an unjust law and go to prison in Montgomery.

In fact, on Labor Day, 1957, MLK delivered an important speech to celebrate Highlander Folk School’s(HFS) founding. There, a supposed ‘freelance photographer,’ Ed Friend, spied on events for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia’s White-Supremacist governor, Marvin Griffin.

One thorough annalist has pointed out, “Th(is) attack upon HFS was part of a larger effort to discredit and demonize anyone connected to the civil rights movement — in particular to … prominent national civil rights organizations.“

Photographer-spy Friend’s pictures showed-up in bigoted, ‘patriotic’ mass-mailings, calling King Communist. The ‘grain-of-truth’ in this assertion was the support that socialists had long offered civil-rights. Red-baiting campaigns-against-King soon went national, with billboards plastered around the South, bearing the caption, “MLK at Communist Training School.”

Lifelong social-justice-proponent, Anne Braden, sent MLK a 1959 letter cautioning him that Ed Friend had just testified in hearings to close HFS. Friend lied, “The greatest objection I had was that one… Negro preacher… there said that white people should be murdered to force the Federal Government to support integration…–that was Martin Luther King.“

MLK addressed this moronic assertion when he sermonized in Atlanta, closing by noting the historical tendency for some to be oppressors and some oppressed. He continued that neither violent uprising nor passive acquiescence was appropriate response to tyranny.

However, “there is another way. … to organize mass non-violent resistance based on the principle of love. …(T)his is the only way as … . we look out across the years and across the generations… .Love is the only way.”

Another Witness for Equality & Proponent of Justice

Every Day in History Is Interesting and Important: Arson Against Honesty

Reposted from Examiner.com

Lillian Smith in the 1960's University of Georgia Libraries
Lillian Smith in the 1960’s University of Georgia Libraries

Fifty-five years ago, at her Georgia Mountain domicile North of Atlanta, Lillian Smith returned home to discover that two youngsters had torched her house. These miscreants, far from acting at random, were punishing the brilliant Ms. Smith, who had lived among them for almost forty years.

Her ‘crime’ was simple: she communicated graphic evidence of bigotry and hatred that ruled much White Southern life. She refused to allow such detestation to overcome her humanity; in literary output, speech, and relationships, she articulated humankind’s oneness, writing MLK in 1956, “My warmest greetings to you…your congregation and… your people who are my people, too; for we are all one big human family. I pray that we shall soon in the South begin to act like one.”

Her life-story—helping parents operate a mountain-inn; running a Clayton girl’s camp and school; publishing daring denunciations of White supremacy long before such stances were fashionable, yields dozens of heroic narratives. People now most remember her books—novels like Strange Fruit–about a White man’s love affair with a Black woman–that Boston banned but that made her financially independent; psychological-autobiographical meanderings like Killers of the Dream, containing direct experiences and observations of hateful prejudice and its twisted contortion of human potential.

After the attack on her home, she began what she considered her most important statement explicating bigotry’s destruction of life and hope. One Hourreveals a deeply-layered, rich Southern slice of life, in which scornful presumption and unstoppable chauvinism induce violent tragedy. Interestingly, the plot revolves around false accusations of child molestation against a scientist, whose work undermines the superstitions to which people often cling in spite of such belief’s toxicity.

Smith’s life-work–persistent effort to foster social justice and clear psycho-social understanding–have made her a posthumous hero. Georgia Women of Achievement has, because she combined brilliance and courage, made Smith one of sixty-six inductees. Moreover, some literary or scholarly savant who advocates social equality and decries xenophobia’s insidious desolation, annually receives the Lillian Smith award, one of the highest human rights honors in existence.

Students, meanwhile, can, with Lillian Smith’s bright light, illuminate themselves and their world, a world where, as she noted with pathos in Killers of the Dream, quite often, “The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.”

 

Fiction’s Truths in Service to Transformative Justice

Maya Angelou’s Literature As Historical Evidence

Reposted from Examiner.com

Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries
Ms. Angelou as a young writer University of Arkansas Libraries

I can assure readers–in 1990, I was clueless that Evander Holyfield was bashing ‘Buster’ Brown’s face. Holyfield’s Atlanta presence, and his philanthropic reputation, I knew, but the fight scene discomfited me.
However, my son a week from birth, Thomas Raabe’s bibliophilism was familiar, quandaries of “choosing between eating and reading.” I kept a journal, religiously. My 10/26/1990 entry mentions a trek to Peachtree’s Oxford books, now disappeared in the relentless trend toward monopoly.rect3336Delighted, I found the new Paris Review, where Maya Angelou proffered an interview profound and subtle about texts, language, history, and courage. This dialog entered the historical record just as she was completing the dramatic portion of a musical collaboration, “King,” about Atlanta’s martyr to justice and peace. Also unbeknownst to me, her poetry volume, I Shall Not Be Moved, had just come off the presses.rect3336Such congruencies—interviews, plays, chapbooks—are mere historical blips; however, such conjunctions present opportunities for topical reflections.rect3336In her long P.R. talk with George Plimpton, for example, ingenious Maya asked readers to consider important ideas. She indicated that Thomas Wolfe erred in asserting that one “can’t go home again,” suggesting instead that no one truly leaves ‘home’ behind, childhood’s legacy sun’s inescapable shadow. rect3336She recalled her first Arkansas return, coproducing TV with Bill Moyers. Despite their joint “clout,” as soon as they departed her native village’s security, she insisted that they stop, so that she could switch vehicles and ride with the other Black folk. Remembered ‘country’ warnings, “dragons, fears, the grotesques of childhood always must be confronted at childhood’s door. Any other place is esoteric and has nothing to do with the great fear that is laid upon one as a child.”rect3336She mentions Nathaniel Hawthorne’s point: “’Easy reading is damn hard writing,’” while acknowledging her own autobiographical brutalization—the extrajudicial execution of her rapist, when she was seven, made her a “’volunteer mute.’…I thought my speech had killed him.”rect3336“Following a tradition established by Frederick Douglass”—a truthful first person narrative—she seeks out the tangible intersection of tragedy and possibility in the combination of opposition and commonality that all people share. Listeners must hear:rect3336

Momma, is Master going to sell you…tomorrow?
Yes.
Unless you keep walking more
and talking less.
…Unless you match my heart and words,
saying with me,
I shall not be moved.

History’s portal is ubiquitous; our attention and subsequent survival are choices.

Fighting Fascism With the Love of the Lovings

All History Is Important and Interesting: Color and Sexuality in America’s Past

Reposted from Examiner.com

The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images
The Lovings, a Loving Couple Getty Images

For the South, William Faulkner said, “(T)he past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” One hundred thirty nine years ago Clarke County, Alabama proved Faulkner apt for Tony Pace and Mary Cox.

This pair apparently cohabited as loving wife and husband. Unfortunately for them, Alabama and most U.S. States proscribed Black/White marriages, outlawing miscegenation completely.

Thus, they faced charges of “Living Together in a State of Adultery or Fornication.” The penalty, were ‘wrongdoers’ both White or both Black, was a $100 fine or six months in jail; if the accused were differently colored, however, consequences ranged from two up to fifteen years in the penitentiary.

These defendants, upon conviction, received the minimum sentence; both appealed. A sympathetic White barrister took Pace’s appellate case pro bono and argued that the evidence was insufficient to establish continuity of relationship–legally part of the fornication charge. Cox’s lawyer contended that she should be released on a technical point.

Alabama’s high court affirmed both convictions, and John Tompkins paid all fees and undertook to appeal Pace’s imprisonment to the U.S. Supreme Court. He believed, even though recent opinions had retracted much of the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of unequal legal treatment, that he could convince Chief Justice Stephen Field and thereby free Tony Pace.

Alas, such was not to be: the Court’s holding unanimously agreed: Pace must complete his sentence. Though 140-years seems relatively distant from hateful attitudes, such misanthropy as Pace v. Alabama remained the law throughout the South until another couple, this time Virginian, faced prison because they dared to marry.

Tell the Court I love my wife,” Richard Loving instructed his lawyer. In 1967, the Supreme Court finally overturned this vestige of vicious color prejudice. Open-minded people cheered the result.

Commonly, such bigoted views seem merely useless ‘mistaken ideas.’ However, historians disagree; harsh, inhuman laws, going against “What Comes Naturally,” serve critical ideological and political ends. Julie Novkov, for example, leaves students with sage words to consider when they examine seemingly ‘mistaken’ past wrongdoing.

“The struggle against miscegenation was… a struggle to establish and maintain whiteness as a(n easily identifiable), separate, and impermeable racial category. … A black man with a white wife, (or vice versa), not only had the potential to produce racially ambiguous children but also undermined white supremacy, and thus whiteness itself, by openly melding black and white into the most fundamental unit of society, the family.”

***

Each of these tiny slices could expand into massive documents.  But, even as ‘chico’ as they are, they proffer readers with a place to start, diligently linked with other materials, about interludes in the life of the South that every literate citizen should comprehend in at least a minimal way.

As above, so below: that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Identity News, Color Blues, & Ethnic Dues

PART TWO-A

17In terms of narrative descriptors, what follows is something akin to Creative Non-Fiction; or fictionalized autobiography and reportage.  Inevitably, everything here is partial and hence, in some pure sense of the word, false.

That partiality results both from fallible memory and the inherent inability to show the real connections among each and every piece depicted, and all the parts of my life that ‘don’t make the cut,’ either because they don’t entail the bogus ‘racial’ category or because they lack whatever mix of macho and oomph that a good vignette ideally would manifest.  In any case, this sort of selectivity biases the sample, so to say.

And that’s just part of the story.  Mediation, scholarship, textualization, and the complex whorls of cultural impact are mostly missing here, despite the fact that all such matters intertwined with experiential materials that I’ve determined to incorporate.  Even to include a teeny, tiny fraction of all such interloping, interconnected, interrelations could make of each and every anecdote here a lengthy, intricate novel or other kind of narration.

Nevertheless, this mixture of memory and mediated meandering does come from the realm of the real.  It all adds up to, if not a portrait of a life—my life—with a certain and consciously chosen coloration, as it were, then at least a few ‘snapshots’ of that existence.

Norman Rockwell - Catch, The
Norman Rockwell – Catch, The

A Childhood Mainly ‘White’

With very few exceptions, folks of European extraction surrounded me in my early years.  In the event, at least one of these exceptional circumstances offers some telling insights, both about my family and ‘living in the U.S.A.,’ as it were.

My parents divorced when I was eight years old, a hideous sundering of what otherwise promised to be the typical admixture of nightmare and fantasy that is the vaunted American “middle class.”  While I won’t go in to precisely how, a possible racial component could characterize this break-up.  We got to stay in the house that sat on a nice street in a White neighborhood of a Columbus suburb, but the ‘wolves were howling’ in my mom’s mind, if not yet right ‘at the door.’

In any case, this eventuality soon enough hurtled my mother and her four chicks—of whom I was the eldest—into a proletarian condition at every turn.  A primary manifestation of that downward drop was in food: less of it was available, and peanut butter and jelly on bread became a mainstay for anywhere from a few days to a week each month, especially since the youthful Spindoctor, in particular, was “a hollow pit” with a “hollow leg” who threatened to “eat (us) out of house and home.”

Though such a development does not on the surface relate to ‘race’ in any but the intellectual or investigative realms, it soon enough brought about a confrontation with color in reality.  My mother’s talents as a wordsmith and secretarial wizard of almost unimaginable speed and accuracy sucked her back into the labor market, leaving the brood at home and in need of care.

A first, youthful caretaker, a just graduated neighborhood high school student at loose ends, did not work out.  Our second “babysitter” was a Black woman, stern and compact but efficient.

In one way or another, she took upon herself the task of making sure that we didn’t too quickly gobble up all the peanut butter and bread, sins of which I was all too likely to be guilty.  The upshot of this inevitable loggerheads was a confrontation between us, during which I scooted around our modest kitchen with a piece of Wonder Bread and a knife laden with buttery brown Skippy’s while our guardian scampered after me with a fly-swatter, generally ineffectual in her attempts to deliver a “good whopping,” like she said that I needed.

This led to a dismissal at the hands of my mother that evening, a sacking which the woman declared “racist” in every way.  “It’s because I’m colored!” she pronounced with a matter-of-fact mien that combined bitterness and resignation.

My normally articulate and tough-minded mother was at a loss at this accusation, since she had herself beaten me when I uttered a “nigger” that one of my fellow first graders had used two years before, but her celebrity-good-looks-secretarial cohort, Linda Lane, was with her and took over the role of interlocutor in this instance.  “I don’t care if you’re yellow, blue, green, or orange; you’re never going to hit these children again.”

The outcome of this imbroglio was that, at age eight and a half years, I became the de-facto overseer of my two ‘school-age’ siblings for a time, and then of the lot of them when my youngest sister too went off to Kindergarten and thereby came home each afternoon.  Plenty of other little incidents touched on ‘race’ while we lived in Ohio—the Navajo woman next door who had married a Manhattan Project machinist was a trip worth a novel or two—but, as noted, it was mainly a white-bread set of circumstances.

texas-87057_640

A ‘Browner’ Move Back to Texas

Divorce did more than introduce me to a ‘rainbow’ way of thinking in one particular case.  It launched our now five-member family unit, at the glimmering hint of a rationale—my step-grandmother’s brain cancer—back to the Rio Grande foothills of the Lone Star State.  Instead of a handful of occurrences that revolved around color, now thousands of such cases happened each year to all four of the little waifs who had just detrained from Columbus, Ohio’s upscale outskirts.

Each of the small proportion of ‘case materials’ that end up here, were it to occupy its natural page or two or three, would mean that PART TWO of this condensation of a life, would run to a small volume at least.  My response to this potential is twofold; in all of the subsections from here onward, at most one or two, or at the outside three, abridgments will show up ‘in full,’ while the remainder of the incidents will find company in more or less a page with more or less like bits and pieces.

 

ONE ANECDOTE

Texas represented an almost monstrous change for the children in this equation, though my sisters—younger, more resilient, who knows?—eventually did just fine with the transition.  I skirted trouble in half a hundred ways but then settled well enough into the nerd persona which was likely my fate anyhow.

My brother John, however—who both achingly missed our father, whom he had subsequently worshipped, and missed his friends in Ohio—at once hit the skids and discovered his inner entrepreneurial genius.  A novel or TV series lurks in these evolving eventualities, but in the abbreviated form here, the central element is that my very Gringo brother fit seamlessly into the barrios and ghettoes of Central North San Antonio.

He was only six when we arrived in Texas, and his big brother definitely was not his most supportive ally, or even a particularly apt pal, having failed to internalize ‘Grampa’ Hickey’s rule of thumb: to be ready to beat the hell out of anyone outside the clan but to form a seamless wall of solidarity against any threat to the family bloodline.  By the time that he was eight, John—unlike his brother, as naturally social as an ant and hilariously comic, with antics that more than once saved his life—had made friends far and wide around the apartments and rental houses that we occupied, changing domiciles every six months or so, on the near North side of the city, inside the ever-expanding reach of the I-410 ring road.

And he made himself useful, learning a serviceable enough Spanglish to take part in all manner of adventures.  His primary utility, in the event, was as a messenger and delivery boy, in modern parlance a drug-mule and courier.

He was riding his own scooter before he was ten, which he hid from all and sundry in the shed that sat adjacent to a little companero’s homestead nearby.  Much of brother John’s mechanical acuity came to the fore during this period, inasmuch as the conveyance in question was as apt to break down as operate on any given day.

His confreres in his daily rounds consisted of many urchins like himself, almost straight out of Dickens, except they were all Mexican American but for one much larger Black youth who would accompany my brother when he went into ‘certain neighborhoods,’ riding behind John as he zoomed from street to alleyway to sidewalk as if he had been born with an urban motorcross destiny.

His legerdemain as a driver, his derring-do, his ability to elude or jolly up any of the occasional coppers and other adults who took notice of him, occasionally with a passenger aboard, made him soon enough indispensable to what my classmates referred to—like me, without a clue at the time of young John Thomas’ role in the organization—as the ‘San Antonio Cosa Nostra.’  Whatever else was happening in these almost daily rounds, an ounce here or a bag of pills or cash there, only a tiny slice of it is possible to imagine exclusively or even mainly as ‘white privilege’ or ‘color prejudice,’ or, Lord have mercy, racism.

Apparently, once he began to sample some of the product, an inevitable wildness of a burgeoning puberty—in which a very precocious relation to young women of multiple hues, and some females not so young, all of whom found his adorable cuteness and youthful manliness irresistible—led to a situation that upended everything for my younger sibling.  He hijacked a pick-up truck, his careening navigation of which was not nearly so nimble as his perambulations aboard his scooter, and the wreckage that resulted, despite his and his paramour’s attempt at flight, led to arrest, probation, and ultimately—thanks to a definite instance of prejudicial intervention on his behalf by a White case officer who recognized nascent athletic talent and intelligence in this young gringo boy—football, another mixed-‘race’ mélange that might provide additional chapters, biographical vignettes, and so forth, at a different point in time.

*****

While ‘hermano Juan’ was up to all manner of mischief, his own hermano, and sisters as well, were undergoing their own ‘multicultural’ initiations to a different, Texas-sized, slice of the American pie.  Brother Jimbo’s first such contextualization concerned food, go figure.  He became an absolute aficionado of cheap and plentiful “all-you-can-eat” smorgasbords at the plethora of Mexican restaurants that graced South Texas environs.  His mom, frequently on first-name basis with the universally Hispanic proprietors, would often boom out, a hearty chuckle punctuating her commentary, that “they always say a ‘Hail Mary’ when they see you come in the door.”

School also introduced color-and-culture issues.  Through one of ‘Grampa’ Fox’s Catholic school board contacts, we all got to attend Longfellow Junior High School, though we weren’t, ‘technically,’ in its arena, a useful dispensation of privilege to the mother of a future nerd because its demographics were less brown and ethnic, and therefore better staffed and funded, and hence ‘intellectual.’  For reasons unknown to the unprepossessing Spindoctor, one Russell White, the school bully and ruffian who was nearing sixteen years as he tried to finish ninth grade for the third time, took a profound dislike to me, threatening, literally, to kill me on the way home the afternoon of our first crossing swords, so to say.  Lucky enough for me, a new friend, a Jewish fellow just arrived from Israel and almost fourteen as an eighth grader because of limited English—and even darker than Russell, whose “half-Black and half-Mexican and half-White” blend gave him the tincture and bone structure of a young Johnny Depp—was by my side when this all happened.  At the 3:30 bell, he took me in hand and led the gang that had undertaken the task of running me to earth a merry chase, the upshot of which was that we survived the afternoon.  Within a month, Avi—trained in Jaifa as a boxer—beat the snot and some of the pulp out of Russell in a gym-class challenge, and no further problems issued from that quarter for an otherwise not-particularly-martial Spindoctor.

Work, too, from bussing tables with variously ethnic coworkers, diving for pie and other uneaten morsels from the high-priced tables at a seafood establishment that one of mom’s Latino friends owned and operated, to all the other ventures that he had till college, contributed to his awareness and understanding of race and culture and related concepts like class, though no one had whispered of this latter notion’s existence yet.  Nothing inculcated this comprehension of skin-tone in conjunction with socioeconomic position like his sojourn at Texas Pharmacal, however.

A newly-minted subsidiary of New Jersey’s Warner-Lambert, pre-Parke Davis takeover or Pfizer merger, the local division executive’s executive secretary was mama Kassy, who made sure her chicklets had an opportunity for paying work each Summer.  In his first interlude there, before tenth-grade’s sophomoric initiation, the Spindoctor learned various valuable lessons: the cushiest summer-work in the plant was delivering the mail, reliably handled by the TP chief’s son.  Jimbo, meanwhile, had the initial assignment to fill in at different places in the firm’s assembly lines, where mainly spry and clever Mexican-American mothers kept pace with the speed-up protocols of the machinery, with occasional accompaniment from African American elders who also had the agility and eye-hand-coordination to let fingers fly through hundreds and hundreds of completed tasks every hour.

Jimbo, on his first day, believed that he had undergone a rite of passage to have stayed sane and focused through the first break, calculating that in two and half hours he had made two dollars sixty-two and a half cents—or about a half a penny each for the roll-on bottles that had whizzed by him so far—while the Spanish speaking women and one Black man who were on the line with him, after seven or more years at their jobs, had garnered three dollars eighty-seven and a half cents in the same period.  His consciousness was developed enough to realize that this relatively small difference in wage scale between a not-quite-sixteen year old rookie, literally first day on the job, and plus-or-minus ten year veterans, seemed somehow unjust.  He also had a developed-enough awareness to note that the beaming mail delivery by the boss’ well-scrubbed, pinkish, basketball-star son was also not in keeping with perfect fairness, as his mind resonated with his mother’s voice, “Yeah, well life’s not fair!”

In the event, when the rub-on deodorant assembly process began to roll once more after the break—not at the start-of-shift moderate rate but at the hyperkinetic pre-fifteen-minute-breather pace—and then got even faster, he expressed his capacity to act the Luddite and put his arm across the line after about ten excruciating minutes, spilling dozens of bottles of creamy chemicals all over the spotless concrete floor.  That was the last he saw of a machine-controlled environment that Summer or the next.  To the order-fulfilling department, or “Shipping & Receiving,” he went, where he worked with one Black and one Hispanic woman and three Black men fitting product into boxes as efficiently as possible, a spatial envisioning capability that came naturally enough to a Spindoctor to allow Summer’s completion with relative aplomb.

 

ANOTHER ANECDOTE

In the chronology of things in Texas, Jimbo’s year-later first semester at Thomas Jefferson High School, roughly one-quarter White, a bit more than a sixth Black, and the rest one variation or other of Hispanic American, was my grooming period for the potential leadership of the campus Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.  In this most modest arm of the military-industrial-complex another year onward, which moved the world along to the Fall of 1969, I had—by merit of grades and extracurricular prowess as an anti-communist orator and debater, and, truth be told, on the basis of very ‘White-bread’ good looks too, which Jimbo was unaware that he possessed—risen to the position of Brigade Sergeant Major, one of only two or three vantage points from which a further rise to Brigade Commander had happened in the past.

Rot-See did not exactly mirror Jefferson’s particular expression of diversity.  Only a couple handfuls of ‘the corps’ was Caucasian, two fingers of which held two of three Sergeant-Major positions, and well under half of the nearly four-hundred-member collection of squads and platoons and companies were Hispanic, one of whom, light-skinned and highly cultured, held the other Sergeant-Major niche.  Most of ROTC, in other words, consisted of not quite half of Thomas Jefferson’s Black population, none of whom held slots that would likely lead to top leadership positions.

One of these ‘capable servants’ of our mutual cause, so to speak, was another Junior, like me, by the name of Clyde McNeal, African American but light-skinned enough to look like a pale cousin of many of his Hispanic ‘fellow travelers,’ a lithe and voluble sergeant at the year’s outset, who drew the spot in the organizational chart that made him my ‘adjutant,’ more or less, his job “to assist the Brigade Sergeant Major in his regular efforts to uphold morale and discipline and advance and improve operation of the entire brigade,” or something similar.  I don’t remember that we accomplished too many special operations worthy of such a designation.

Mainly, Sergeant Mineer would ‘suggest’ something, and Brigade Commander Sibley would agree and tell me to come up with a way to ‘implement it.’  Maybe a couple of service ideas originated from my ever-active bureaucratic brain; definitely the inspiration to provide weekly escort-and-security at football games was my notion.  But I suppose, in the scheme of things, that we wrote military memos and gave pep talks and orchestrated having bodies in position at different events and occasions all during that academic year.

And I did play a role in all that.  Sergeant McNeal, whose typing skills already rivaled my mother’s legendary alacrity, was the designated compositor of all my fancies for doing whatever Cadet-Colonel Sibley directed, or whatever scheme that I dreamed up that Sergeant Mineer didn’t find too “hare-brained.”  In none of this process was I aware that ‘White privilege’ was in indisputable fact responsible for most of my opportunities to ‘show leadership.’  Nor did I concern myself with the fact that one fifth of the White membership of an organization, which as a whole constituted a little over two percent of the entire brigade, added up to two-thirds of the pool of candidates for next year’s lead job, which was, predictably, in the hands of another of the White members that year, in the person of Air-Force-Academy-bound Cadet-Colonel Sibley.

Truly, I was color-blind.  On the other hand, I was not a bigot, nor did I have a White supremacist bone in my body, unless taking one’s ‘fit’ for a leading role for granted amounted to supremacist thinking.  In retrospect, it was a cultural nexus of color and class and empire and more, which I only reflected on later.

In any case, as November wore on, well beyond the juncture at which the recognition that Jefferson—without my brother’s magic hands yet—would not advance to the football playoffs, I began to receive romantic notes and ‘gifts’ in my box in the Brigade Office, just outside of the ample space that Sergeant-Major Mineer, U.S. Army retired, and First-Sergeant Braxson, also U.S. Army retired, shared with each other while they chewed tobacco and ‘the fat’ together from predawn morning till late afternoon each day.  The receipt of such ‘smoking’ missives was something of a puzzle.

At that time, ROTC was exclusively male.  “Young ladies,” as Sergeant Mineer termed them with a merry glint in his eye, only very rarely came along to visit, perhaps once or twice a day with messages from somewhere else on Jefferson’s fairly spread-out campus.  And these ‘delivery-girls,’ as it were, were universally seniors, and unlikely to have developed a crush on a member of the debate team, a spirited nerd who spent most of his time either with other ‘forensics-program’ sorts or bustling about the armory, “policing the area” or dreaming up new memos or setting up classes for the military-specialty units from our annual regimen of ‘skills-to-imbibe’ that the Department of Defense provided us.

In any case, I kept the first couple of these love-notes to myself.  Their curlicued printing and lively punctuation did set my heart aflutter.  They were much more romantic than graphic, let alone pornographic, but they did express the “ecstasy of embracing you” and other phrases that inevitably turned a sixteen year old’s head, despite the fact that I had a pretty ‘steady’ girlfriend at that juncture, though this would only last through the Christmas holidays, as she proved a ‘fickle pickle’ and began to date elsewhere.

My discretion did not carry the day, however, since my always snoopy co-Sergeant Major, Richard Gamez, saw one of the leering ‘headlines’ one day just prior to Thanksgiving break—“I long for you,” it said—and spread the word that some sort of “wild, jungle-love-thing” was happening in the Brigade office, with a young and blushing Jimbo the object of someone else’s very heated affection and attention.  If anything, after we all returned from stuffing ourselves with turkey, the pace at which items appeared in my mail-slot picked up.

While no concerted effort to nab whoever was responsible for these materials came to the fore, an undeniably fervent interest about the situation permeated the Corps at that point.  Good-natured teasing was in any event rife; reliably ‘White’ as the youthful Spindoctor was, a scarlet flush was practically guaranteed in these instances.

Then, in a to-me absolutely unexpected turn of events, Sergeant Major Weynand espied the delivery of a heartfelt love plea on Pearl Harbor Day, 1969.  The perpetrator, and besotted erstwhile love interest, was none other than Sergeant Clyde McNeal.

The notion of homosexuality was pretty vague to me at that intersection in my life, notwithstanding years-ago frolics with the Whitecotton boys, both satyrs for sure, interludes of prepubescent ‘bonding’ in which brother and step-brothers took part in West Virginia, before we all departed for the Lone Star State.  At this juncture, sixteen and with a healthy fantasy appetite for ‘fun with girls,’ I had a primitive kind of sense that such proclivities in other young men might mean more willing women for me, but nothing definite, certainly nothing religious or moral, had formulated itself in my fevered then-pubescent brain when all of this exploded onto the TJ ROTC scene.  My more or less ho-hum disposition was not the common view, however.

On the contrary, a definitive movement soon arose to crucify cadet McNeal, drum him out of the Corps, and thereby reestablish something unstated, perhaps the sacred masculinity of the entire establishment.  “No Maricon!” was on many of my fellow cadets’ lips.  Nevertheless, basically without giving the matter a second thought, I put my response in writing.  “If he goes, I go.”

My intuitive sense was that this was nobody’s business but Clyde’s really, and possibly mine.  In any case, after my first sally that said in no uncertain terms how I opposed categorically any disciplinary action, young Sergeant Major Jimbo followed up with lengthier and more fully rational memoranda.

The upshot of the entire affair, in the end, came down to a split among the cadets themselves, but a tacit agreement between Sergeant Mineer and the school principal.  In this managed view of matters, Clyde McNeal deserved no punishment, and harassment of any sort would receive the harshest response, including expulsion from Jefferson.

While a now aged Spindoctor can look back on these events with a measure of pride—I naturally stood up for decency, or something similar, this is not the real overall lesson of those years.  That concerns the way that class and color and status and sex and cooperation and conflict and mutuality and self-interest and more all bubbled together in a complex stew that simple categories and explanations simply do not adequately address.

This was no more primarily a matter of oppression of imminent gay sensibility than it was mainly a racial stand-off.  Various tints of the social spectrum were obviously intrinsic to what took place, and how actors in these different social spaces viewed sexuality, or such other aspects of Eros as that, was also critical.  Not only did the whole scene contain such elements, but it also manifested much more besides, of a political-economic, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical cast as well, from which any who care to ponder the case might gain valuable insights.

*****

In fact, such a complicated interplay continued to define the remainder of my time in South Texas as well.  Among the eventualities that made that clear were others in which my experience in ROTC played a part.

Many Friday nights, under the glaring lights and amid the wild cheers and tribal songs of martial contest and glorious victory, in which the all-but-one-brilliant-young-Black-woman cheerleading squad led our chants and bolstered our ‘school spirit,’ I stood at the head of a contingent of ushers and overseers at our home stadium or “on the road,” wherever Jefferson played.  Fight the team across the field, show them Jeff High is hear.  Set the Earth reverberating with the mighty cheer—Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah!

My minions were, almost universally, Black and Hispanic.  Similarly, the quarterback was a young White god whose linemen, his cannon fodder, all sweated blood from brown pores of one cast, and one caste, or another.

Though I hardly noticed, chauvinism and privilege and color codes touched everything in my high-school life.  My ‘advanced’ classes were either overwhelmingly or exclusively Gringo; the Chemistry teacher, Mr. Gonzalez, was the only instructor of color whom I encountered in three years.

Somehow, through this adolescence in which what most people term ‘race’ played a significant part—a growing-up that emanated from a hyper-patriotic ninth and tenth grade anti-communism that was my basic ideological substrate, a point-of-view that was no more obvious to me than was the beating of my heart or the bellowing of my lungs—I came to embrace a truly staunch critique—both somewhat class-conscious and decidedly anti-‘racist’—of U.S. actions, particularly those which involved militarism or warmongering, and especially ‘adventurous intervention’ in Asia.  Though this sensibility did not manifest itself powerfully till the middle of Junior year, when my very conservative sweetheart and I split asunder, I began to hang out with the drama club crowd, who tended also to be White but who included most of the more or less ‘open’ gay students and a small swath of radicals of color, whose heightened political consciousness was, for San Antonio, way ‘ahead of the curve,’ so to say.

Thus, at the end of February, three days after I’d had the chance to serve as an ‘escort’ for all sorts of bejeweled White ladies at a Convention Center soiree, I sashayed into the armory one Tuesday wearing the black armband of Mobilization for Survival.  An article in the Express-News, without mentioning me by name, noted the “possibility that sedition and insurrection” might be swelling within student ranks, “and even in the venerable Reserve Officers Training Corps, at San Antonio’s very own Thomas Jefferson High School.”

I wondered if I would find myself either forced to commit what we mispronounced as Hari-Kari, or in other ways unable to continue my march toward a commanding position in the Corps.  I acceded to Sergeant Mineer’s bewildered mandate, turning a phrase as nicely as he might utter a curse, that “You sure as hell aren’t wearing that garish garbage over your uniform, Cadet Sergeant Major Hickey.”  To this, I readily agreed, alternately paled and reddened, as our almost Albino-white Brigade Commandant blustered at me in tones as fiery bronze as his blushing facial countenance.

 

A FINAL  TEXAS TALE

Despite Sergeant-Major Jimbo’s unexpected militancy about Vietnam, an aspect of the Junior-year debate topic’s concerning the Southeast Asian conflict—where I uncovered just incontrovertible evidence that the only patriotic element in the U.S. incursion there, amid Gooks and spooks galore, was to proffer profit to big U.S. businesses that could care less about the loss of soldiers, at least half of whom were an ‘of-color’ sacrifice, or the slaughter of civilians who were all ‘ethnics’—I apparently remained the likely recipient of the Colonel’s braid for the next year’s Cadet Commander’s position.  One more interlude presented a possible variation, though.

As 1970’s Spring semester unfolded, Jefferson instituted an, even for-that-period, even in Texas, quite harsh and restrictive dress code.  Though it did not significantly impact me, what with my almost crew-cut short hair and one-to-two days each week in uniform, it nevertheless seriously irritated the emerging Spindoctor’s sensibilities to such an extent that I chose to run for Student Council President.

Furthermore, nascent ‘Black Power’ and ‘La Raza’ feelings were also apparent, even at relatively staid ‘Jeff,’ as the ‘sixties’ were ending and the ‘seventies’ beginning.  My Drama Club friends and acquaintances very blithely inculcated this burgeoning democratic consciousness into an evolving Spindoctor belief system that looked less and less like the template of terror that young Jimbo had promoted theretofore, as an orator, an extemporaneous speaker, and as a talkative student citizen.

My old sweetheart came back.  Sergeants Mineer and Braxson smiled that they “saw no problem in pushing a vote for the Corps” in the Student Council race.  Clyde McNeal was on my ‘campaign committee,’ as was my debate partner at that time Albert, or as he stated the case with a rolling of ‘r’s,’ Alberrto Gutierrez, an almost unbelievably handsome and sweet-talking Mexican American whose family was a substantial proponent of ‘cultural pride,’ both in the community and at school.  We posted our campaign posters, which elicited universal chuckles and good feelings, around the campus: “Give Jefferson a Hickey,” my own slogan our recipe for engagement.  My bridge partner, bound for Stanford and a counsel for conservative or middle-of-the-road ideas, was the campaign manager, who in the end gave in to my developing, extremely democratic, message.

Jefferson had always ‘elected’ a White fellow to lead Student Council prior to that conjunction.  This year’s field reflected that history: eight candidates were Gringos, one was Black, and Vincent Torres was a brilliant Mexican American campaigner.

The first culling of this herd of wannabe politicos left five of us to deliver speeches to the entire student body.  I and three other White males, along with Vince Torres, stepped up to the Rostrum in early May of 1970.

By lot, I spoke last, always my favorite spot.  The only speech out of the ordinary—my three hypothetically closer cousins of the ‘Caucasus’ all emphasized school spirit and good grades and positive attitudes—was Vince Torres, whose talk focused on subtle issues of representation and change.

When I came to the lectern, the hush that came over the crowd and my entry into the orator’s zone that had won me a few prizes made of the next ten minutes—our allotted time to speak—a magical and torrid blur.  I spoke about the presumption of telling young adults how to dress; of the foolishness of preaching democracy without letting soon-to-be citizen practice it; of the heady potential of power to transform our lives and make of Jefferson a “true laboratory of liberty that might shake the foundations of Texas and the world.”

When I finished, a beat or two of silence ensued, before a deluge of cries of acclaim and thunderclaps of applause rose like a tidal wave that roared ashore in that auditorium; basically the entire student body leapt to its feet to shout out approbation.  Completely astonished by this, I looked around at the principal, assistant principals, and guidance counselors who shared the stage with us.

Their faces also registered amazement; as well as an unmistakable nervousness and even a little trepidation.  When the roaring and stomping and cheers did not cease, the principal himself, stern as usual, his face aglow with a sheen of uncharacteristic sweat, stepped to the podium and called for calm, ultimately lowering the cacophony to a murmur of surf that allowed for a dismissal of the captive pupils and an end of the program and the journey to lunch that was next on the agenda.

Vincent Torres and I faced each other in a runoff.  My speech became a basis for his victory, which according to what I heard was the biggest landslide in our school’s history.

Whatever other components of electoral maneuvering or behind-the-scenes posturing might have transpired, this event was a clear-cut expression of a new phase in history, when groups would choose from among their own to find leadership and imprimatur.  And, whatever the case may be, he was a much better, and eminently more manageable student leader than I ever would have been.

*****

 

As things developed, I was also the last White R.O.T.C. Cadet Colonel at Jefferson.  My turning down a West Point appointment may have been the final insult to the SOP that was tolerable, or the time may just have come for different scheme of things to rule.

In senior debate efforts, my Jewish partner and my Hispanic partner made us a more-than-usually diverse team, whomever I paired with on a specific weekend.  We won in fields that were overwhelmingly White and largely Anglo.

I dated Mary Alice Garcia for a time at the end of Spring semester, and our Latin-loving soul kisses might easily have gotten out of hand had I not skittered off in fear.  On our senior trip, just before graduation, we visited Monterrey, Mexico, where the taste of metal from foundries and blast furnaces and factories tinged the tequila that we snuck into our rooms to celebrate what was soon to be a real rite of passage.  A young Black beauty, Lorraine Thomas, and I spent an hour in the pool, kissing and petting before we, too, decided that going any further was too wild an idea for a virgin like the Spindoctor.

And then a new phase in instruction about color and class and consciousness was ready to begin.  More about that will follow shortly, as Part Two-B, so to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Identity News, Color Blues, & Ethnic Dues

PART ONE

Like most North Americans, diversity and division have defined my days here, which now number well over 20,000.  My parents met because my Irish, Scotch-Irish, French mother had an eye for Hispanic men, who were common as corn in South Texas, at a time when such liaisons brought ferocious reaction from parents and peers, and my father, with identical roots except German instead of French, wanted to fly fighters against North Koreans, mere gooks in the parlance of West Virginia’s hills and hollers, men and women whom his country had goaded into war.

That a deaf ear—the result of a hunting accident—would permit him no notoriety above that of a jet-engine mechanic altered the course of his training to Lackland AFB’s vast swath of the hill country South of San Antonio.  There, a ‘blind date’ brought my soon-to-be mom and dad into a heated conjunction, the result of which was me, albeit I came along in the mountainous countryside near Wheeling, instead of in the Lone Star State that conceived me.

And now, in my seventh decade hence, I sit in the higher massif of Western North Carolina, where I ponder so many years in the midst of what almost everyone around me calls race, a category as nonsensical as the notion that creatures of the same species have any relation but those of siblings, parents, offspring, various uncles or aunts, and cousins, which is what all of our sort on the planet are to each other if they do not stand in the first set of relations to any particular friend or acquaintance or stranger.  Seven billion of us live on Earth: All God’s Cousins, as I’ve entitled the first novel that I’ve been penning for myself.

I’ve composed multiple bits and pieces of scholarship, argumentation, articles, features, and research-based essays on these topics.  To initiate this litany of what is essentially a series of vignettes and anecdotes from Spindoctor’s life and times, an abstract that consists primarily of quotations from six such narratives follows here.

troy-davisA very specific item on Daily Kos concerned the judicial murder of Troy Davis for a crime that he did not commit.  Here is a useful contextualization of that point.

“Today, seven of those nine observers take back their testimony, admitting that they cannot state with any certainty who pulled the trigger and slayed an honest cop doing good work.  At least four of the seven retractors currently insist that police threats–of various sanctions against them with criminal consequences–played a gigantic role in suborning perjury against an innocent man who will die in a few weeks at our collective hands.  Mark Allen MacPhail’s death is a fact; that someone gutlessly murdered him is a fact; Troy Anthony Davis’ conviction for that soulless crime is a fact.

But we should make no mistake: copious other facts are now at hand, including and in addition to over three quarters of the eyewitnesses, who formed the sole basis for the State’s pinning this act on Mr. Davis in the first place, having recanted their statements.  Therefore, his actual guilt is at best one possibility among many others that can account for the cretinous and hateful destruction of Officer MacPhail’s life.”

That Troy Davis was Black and poor was the main surface basis for his death.  However, reporters on the ground in Savannah such as the Spindoctor, as well as observant citizens there who lived and worked in the neighborhoods where the unfortunate Mr. Davis resided, knew that at least as pertinent was that the likely perpetrator of the fatal shooting of a moonlighting policeman was a Savannah Police Department informant whose work and identity were of more importance than either a working class cop’s death or another working class bystander’s falsely and perniciously becoming a scapegoat for the officer’s murder.

Shortly after writing the futile DK plea, a more academic assessment of this sort of wrong followed, which focused mainly on the origins of what one might term an environmental justice movement, and on the documentation of wrongdoing and injustice on which any such social motion depends.  The following lines offer something like a summary of that work.

“For many centuries, a darkly ironic conception of justice ruled in Dixie.  ‘Just Us’ referred to the accurate formulation that legal remedies and the assistance of police and other governmental agents was not only decidedly not available for African Americans and other people of color—and to a large extent, poor people as well, but also that the relations with courts and the ‘long arm of the law’ generally took place as hostility, exploitation, and viciously corrupt practice. …

(Such issues extended to almost all aspects of environmental health and pollution and such other related matters).  Martin Luther King called C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow ‘the historical Bible of the civil rights movement,’ yet I imagine that very few JustMeans readers other than Jimbo have heard of the volume, let alone having read it.  The set of those who would connect this tome with energy and environment issues would contain at least one member, but probably only one member.

The Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organizations Coalition(LEJCOC) stands for this sort of historical recognition that governs the social orientation in the present, recognizing also that ‘to support and address the needs of environmental justice communities in Louisiana: including poverty, health, racism, crime, violence and other social-economic problems’ requires the ability ‘to bring poor and environmentally-challenged communities in Louisiana to the table with governmental entities and industry ….’”

Just as in relation to the barbaric sentence against Troy Davis, so too here, then, a combination of a broader brush and more nuance than a race-based assessment is a sine qua non of progress.  Color may indeed be the key component, but it alone cannot lead either to understanding or to solutions that address these issues of environmental and other types of social wrongdoing or disparity.

A third missive, a bit wider in its outlook and yet also barely scratching this all-too-superficially plumbed surface, examined ‘race’ and mediation and social justice through a lens that used popular culture as its focal point.  “From Barkhad Abdi to Krishna’s Command About Duty” follows the fact that everything social touches on everything else of such a kind to look at questions of empire and psychology and color in relation to media and popular culture.

“The point of all of this, hopefully obvious, is that things are comprehensible if and only if an onlooker is willing to juxtapose apparently disparate pieces in such a fashion as to see the whole in relation to the parts and vice versa.  No other set of methods will ever yield outcomes other than rudimentary portraits, which in themselves have nothing to do with action, power, or possibilities of transformation. …

(In contemplating Barkhad Abdi’s Hollywood travails, for instance, one would need to consider the young performer’s roots). For many … arid milennia, the traders and warriors and clans of what we now call Somalia played a key role in the manifestation of social relations there.  They mediated markets from across the Indian ocean that shipped spices in return for hides and specie and, often enough, slaves.  They provided waystations for those who hoped to trade otherwise with subsaharan Africa, including those who wanted to purchase human flesh.  They were capable enough sailors that they made excellent merchant mariners and, more recently, pirates, such as those that Barkhad and his friends played in ‘Captain Philips,’ especially now, when sociopolitical and ecological factors have combined to impel them. …

(Layering further swatches of history and depredation and colonial and ethnic conflict onto each other is part of Abdi’s life). (In this vein) (o)ne can read of the intertwining of English imperial efforts in India and Somalia throughout Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, which tells of her ‘adventures’ in Kenya under the tutelage and protection of Farah, her Somali ‘chief-of-staff,’ in relation to all manner of other characters from Arabia, India, and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa itself.  On her departure from the country, she describes the ‘entire’ Somali population of Nairobi’s turning out to see her off.”

Anything like race, if the notion has meaning other than fetish or bugaboo, has little to do with Abdi’s plight as an underpaid actor in a hyper-privileged environment.  To look at this issue and most others in the world today necessitates that a thinker ‘intersectionalize,’ so to speak, multiple ways of contextualizing things, a process in which not only is color only one of many factors to take into account, but also its meaning is one that comes from its relations to everything else, and not at all from itself.  All such racialist tunnel vision is at best flawed and largely false.

Another—a fourth—Spindoctor blog, this also from the Solidarity Forever website examined an instance of Southern History that also revealed the complex and interconnected subtleties that make up what most people today simply ascribe to race and racism.  The case at hand in “Tearing Down the Walls” involved one of the ugliest and most effective divide-and-conquer schemes in history—the convict lease system—which continues in new forms to proffer both exploitation of and hostility among workers to those who already own everything on Earth.

Tennessee-republican-broadside-coal-creek-warThe “Coal Creek Wars” concerned the mineral and metals district that centered on Chattanooga, stretching from Birmingham to Knoxville.  In it, White supremacist attitudes toward Black workers did not keep mine owners from using often enough illegally incarcerated African Americans whenever profit or class war called them to do so, with “the stern hand” that such ‘dusky workers’ needed.’  An intense battle of classes soon became unavoidable in this context.

“One interesting aspect of this upheaval was that the miners were plus-or-minus ninety per cent White and the prisoners were almost one hundred per cent Black.  Another fascinating piece of this story was that the union and unorganized colliers, with allies from community businesses and local agriculture, repeatedly confronted the militias assigned to oversee the prison-mines, and forced the release of the Black men incarcerated their.   The victorious coal miners in such cases packed the jailed workers off to the State capitol or to Knoxville in the company of their keepers.”

Media and cultural ‘leaders’ like preachers—either universally or generally, respectively—renounced miners’ acts on their own behalf.  ”No matter that media and social leaders condemned them, however, beginning October 31, 1891, the up-in-arms miners took things a step further.  They had become irretrievably disenchanted with established norms and approaches when Governor John Buchanan, a Farmer-Labor-Alliance Democrat, whom they played a big role in electing, not only failed to find a way to end convict leasing but also led some of the militia units to East Tennessee to ‘restore order.’ …

For over a year after July, 1891, when large scale direct action began in earnest, the mining district of Tennessee became even more an armed camp than it had already been, off and on, since the end of Reconstruction.  A state of something like warfare prevailed.  Not until a year or so prior to Tennessee’s ending the convict lease in 1896—the first deep-South State to do so—did outbursts taper off and end altogether in the deep hollows of the Cumberlands, the Smokies, and the Blue Ridge.”

Again, relying on race and racism wholly fails to account for what occurred.  A different rubric, richer and more multihued, must replace an explanatory nexus based primarily, let alone exclusively, on color.

33 RACISM JV“We’re All Cousins After All” provides an overview of the material that people, at least plausibly, need to ponder in connection with this ideation, a fifth instance of Spindoctor narration.  As with the material on environmental justice, this reportage occurred on JustMeans, arguing in terms of corporate social responsibility and sustainability that issues of color, and the supremacist ideology that different coloration elicits, required more than conceptions of race in response.

“My title today alludes to a long-ago essay, one of the first that I ever published, the original of which lies at the bottom of some mile of files, or at the back of a stuffed file cabinet drawer.  It’s the answer to the ‘Jeopardy’ (prompt) that is arguably the most important inquiry that we can (make) in these days of troubled times.  ‘(T)he scientific relation between each person on earth and every other person who is not some stripe of parent, sibling, or offspring?’”

Of course, the answer is, the question, “What is a cousin?”  This past Spindoctor essay continued,

“As any who have taken the time and energy necessary to plow through what I’ve been writing can testify, much of what I convey revolves around more or less complicated skeins of relationship. …(proceeding to examine sources both scientific and Marxist in their orientation to knowledge)… This theoretical and scientific undergirding that informed my notions of color and class actually, since I was neither a philosopher nor a scientist, but a student of history, grew out of my focus, beginning as an undergraduate and continuing through forays in grad school and from then until now, on the meaning and development and possibilities of life in the Southern United States.  Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son still provide clearer conceptual foundations for discerning Southern History, which revolves around the vortex of slavery and White Supremacy; and U.S. history, which revolves around the vortex of Dixie; and world history, which revolves around the vortex of the USA than do any number of ‘standard’ annals of the past. …

And through everything runs the thread that defines the fabric of Southern existence: the enslavement of tens of millions of cousins over a period of centuries, whose offspring are friends and neighbors and fellow citizens today, whose lives and prospects form a distinct, and often central, component of contemporary life–of my life.  Without doubt, the primary analytical and conceptual methods for dealing with this complex of historical fact and current conflict swirl around the idea of race, the explanatory upshot of which almost always devolves to racism. …

As today’s article unfolds itself in a reader’s mind, I ask that they repeat the accurate notation that the title advances: “We’re all cousins after all.”  (Joseph) Graves gives us a sturdy simple tool with The Race Myth, which he follows up with the expanded and updated The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium.  Matthew Hughey proffers an informative orientation to the path down which Graves wants to take us, and, quite plausibly, down which we had better move our fannies directly.

‘Graves’ work was written (first) to dismantle the so-called scientific basis … of the actual existence of race as a typology devoid of racist content and conjecture, and second, to expose the politically motivated ideological underpinnings of biological descents into the abyss of racism.  Thus, Graves examines the history of biological diversity from a modern scientific perspective.  He writes, ‘…what we call ‘race’ is the invention not of nature but of our social institutions and practices.  The social nature of racial categories is significant because social practice can be altered far more readily than can genetic constitution.’ …

(President Lincoln understood that) (s)lavery remains the central most dispositive truth of American history. …And thus spake Abraham: Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.’

And we could rub the readers nose in the fact—these are as close to ‘facts,’ in any event, as we’ll ever get in relation to the past—that the recompense, the remuneration, the payback, for the two and a half centuries under the law of the lash has yet to clear the bank of history.  ‘Jim Crow,’ as we saw yesterday, and viciousness to make the blood flowing from the screen in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ seem like a mere sprinkling of mist, have predominated in relation to the ‘Black Man’s Burden’ of carrying the profitability of capital on his sturdy shoulders.

Closing our eyes to this tale, even if we don’t want to hear it, may contravene an easy path to a decent future.  The long knives of systematic gore and carnage are capable of popping up quite quickly.  We have little time, very possibly, to ‘straighten up and fly right,’ as my momma always liked to say.”

Now that’s a really long quotation from an analysis that the Spindoctor composed seven years ago almost.  It’s over 30,000 words long, and maybe a hundred people have read it.  Unfortunately, everybody on the planet ought to check it out, not that this assertion, or its possible truth, make much difference.

Fitzpatrick Color Chart
Fitzpatrick Color Chart

Undaunted nevertheless then, finally, another longform report argued that “The Race Trap” has become an insidious aspect of contemporary culture and politics.  It gives the most comprehensive and racially-centered aggregation of the Spindoctor approach to these thorny elements of the current context.

To wit:

“If a prime purpose of thinking and study and discussion and learning ends up as something like reasonable action that improves human life, then the overwhelming majority of SOP mediation that happens today in this largely intellectual and dialogic sphere is, viewed most optimistically, counterproductive and absurd.  This assertion might appear quixotic and clearly makes a disputatious claim.  However, this essay will contend that at least provisionally it proves that contention, in relation more exactly to broadcast or otherwise distributed discourse about social conflict that reputedly involves ‘race,’ ‘racial differences,’ ‘racism,’ and so forth.

In essence, because precisely one human race exists, ‘racism’ only addresses a socially developed concept about a false idea, that different races with different biological qualities in fact are a part of the human condition, a popular and yet completely incorrect conceptualization of human social relations that inevitably colors and distorts what happens among diverse social actors, probably in a completely toxic, and ultimately in a totally self-destructive, fashion. …”

This does not mean that color prejudice and White supremacy don’t exist.  On the contrary, “At least as much as any other correlative, the capacity to resist force against oneself or one’s friends or one’s family is a sine qua non of social potency.  In the United States, the uncounted thousands of police and vigilante murders—and hundreds of thousands of assaults—each decade fall with such massive disproportion on people of color, and Black folk first among these assaulted populations, that any notion that chance determines this fate must look surreal.  The very fact of the disparity is explosively ubiquitous at all compass points, both ideological and cultural, in mediated assessments from every possible place on our planet. …

(Moreover), (t)he American Civil Liberties Union summarizes (another aspect of) this malicious and detrimental incongruity, irreconcilable with anything other than vicious injustice, double-dealing, and purposeful division: “Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.

This skewed enforcement of drug laws has a devastating impact.  One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are currently either on probation, parole, or in prison.  One in five black men have been convicted of a felony.  In seven states, between 80% and 90% of prisoners serving time for drug offenses are black.

(Literally scores of additional examples of discrimination and vicious supremacist thinking show up.  However), (a)gain, coloration, or race, does not cause or play a significant role in this opportunism and exploitation: these malefactors come in all shades.  What turns out to be dispositive, again and again and again and again—and again—are the twin factors of geopolitical strategy, along with its scramble for resources and markets, on the one hand, and the capacity to control and dispose of vast armies of labor and muscle, as well as buckets of cash, on the other hand.  Skin color just doesn’t explain either the political economic tangles or the socioeconomic conundrums that capital causes in these struggles and then solves to its own advantage until working people of different colors—can anyone present say Cuba?!—have united to oppose bourgeois overlords. …

Arundhati Roy in 2013
Arundhati Roy in 2013

Perhaps a brilliant epigram from Arundhati Roy, a multihued writer of color, gives form and thrust to what the Spindoctor has been developing here.

‘Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it.  To deprive it of oxygen.  To shame it.  To mock it.  With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories.  Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few.  They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.  On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’

The most recent Nobelist of color guides those willing to follow to the most crucial reason for abandoning ‘race’ as an organizing principle, for rejecting ‘racism’ as the causal agent of oppression and exploitation and vicious inequity: no matter one’s ‘good intentions,’ insisting on racial categories lets the real factors that cause our woes escape notice; insisting on racial categories gives elites the chance to ‘toss a bone’ to the crushed masses that does nothing to change fundamental problems; insisting on racial categories, in a busy and crowded world, will always cause opportunity costs since one can only do so much, meaning that the real causative elements receive short shrift or no attention at all.

Whatever else the Spindoctor is, he is not a complete idiot.  He does not expect these notes to be popular.  He realizes that busy people with many beautiful ideas of their own will resist even delving into this oeuvre, let alone reading it all.

Nevertheless, to those who don’t insist on obfuscation or denial—ah, the river in Egypt—this much must be clear.  We are all cousins, unless we have an even closer kinship.  The differences among us are tiny, relative to our genetic code, our biological template.

Whatever the case may be, this recounting of a body of work is not an excuse to continue in the same vein, though I might do so in ways that would continue, at a minimum, in interesting and engaging me.  Instead, the purpose of this intellectual overview was to provide a basis for introducing an extremely personal, extremely observantly-lived existence that has—almost literally on occasion—burst with the contradictions of the rainbow coloration of the human condition—sort of a ‘Color in the Life of Cousin Jimbo’ narrative for all to ponder who see fit to do so.

This is a first installment.  A continuation, quite quickly, is forthcoming.  That’s a promise, not a threat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Connection & the Inflection of Change

A DAY IN APPALACHIA’S SMOKING MOUNTAINS HEART

 

Daily Kos meetingUnder most circumstances, the Spindoctor is essentially the opposite of an enthusiastic ‘tweeter.’   Yesterday was different from ‘most circumstances,’ however, so I let loose with a veritable flood of Twitter activity.  Before I go into the what and why that lies behind this uncharacteristic behavior, I wanted to lead off with the little missives themselves, to wit, here, all from #spindoctorjimbo.

  • Climate change, glaciers & tropics, is inevitable; the key problem is to adjust our social relations to share better?http://ly/1YHsL2S
  • Now is Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons Day, an idea whose time better come quick–the question is how, exactly?http://ly/1YHk0G2
  • “The most radical thing one can do here, perhaps, is to keep the Democratic Party honest,” an assertion even if untrue that is interesting.
  • “We have no friends and no enemies; we have temporary, tactical allies,” an assessment of the NAACP that shows the necessities of the South.
  • More than anything, the call is to action; the call is to do, to go into communities and meet people where they are to help bring movement.
  • Discomfort is not trauma, so we need to be willing, especially when spaces are most comfortable, to bring discomfiture to the process.
  • What people need is your stories; elders must be willing to mentor, to overcome their own shyness to reach out to young people who hunger.
  • “We’re not going to play ‘Oppression Olympics;’ we seek intersections of identities with tangible struggles to advance toward real goals.
  • White Partners can show up for Black Lives–cash in privilege; crush cooptation & give credit; roll up sleeves & work; practice resilience.
  • No election is hopeless if we organize relentlessly, as work in Kansas recently shows, but the actual effort is the issue: #Dkosconnects.
  • Data shows clearly: NC politics are a cheat; history shows that Democrats as well as Republicans bear responsibility for this-#Dkosconnects.
  • #dkosconnects Why not more to engage Latinos? The ‘community’ hasn’t identified the issue as important, though “LatinoKos” does exist.
  • From DailyKos Asheville, three points: valuing grassroots expertise; finding diversity; seeing changing Internet… #dkosconnects

daily kos meeting

From the clues provided, astute readers will surmise that a DailyKos event has just unfolded wherever the Spindoctor hangs his hat, which in the event is in the Asheville, North Carolina area, up in the hills where far flung hollers exist that enclose natural wonder and crazy social complexity at one and the same time.  That this area of North America has the fastest growing Hispanic population, for example, who often help “pick the ‘backer’” and “mind the ‘maters,’” is just one instance of this wildly intricate social scene.

The meeting itself started with the lovely chants for fellow Kossacks to meet in the flesh. The prospects and problems that the site faces occupied the initial give-and-take. In particular, the tendency of at least somewhat elderly White men to predominate was on everyone’s minds. How to increase participation by women, people of color, youth, and LBGT, and more was not something that we solved on the spot, but we considered the matters at hand, as it were.

Moreover, very much to the reason that we were all gathering, DK founder Markos Moulitsas loves these hills, a result of his warm reception here at the end of his first book tour more or less a decade ago.  The region prides itself on art, orneriness, and generosity, not qualities that one would naturally put together in a troika but that nonetheless are part and parcel of WNC.

As well, the voters here are much more than half Democrats, a priority morsel for a project that seeks a world that contains more, and better, Democrats.  In the event, the gray day perfectly displayed why the massif here deserved the Cherokee name of Smoking Mountains; that the vast swath that a founder of the ‘pre-modern’ Democrats stole from the region’s original inhabitants includes contemporary Asheville is ironic.

The venue for our frolic was also a little incongruous.  Little more daily kos meetingthan half a dozen years ago, the city’s beloved civic meeting spot became the U.S. Cellular Convention Center, over the protests of many here who hated a corporate sellout for both the name and the implications.  In the meantime, those in attendance had a chance to discover that one of U.S. Cellular’s ‘competitors,’ Verizon Wireless, is trying to crush an organizing campaign by the Communications Workers of America, not all that surprising given that the Tarheel State has the lowest proportion of unions in North America.

The voices that Daily Kos brought together yesterday covered a range of matters.  They included powerful data analysis of the vicious and predatory approach of North Carolina’s Republican politicians to the suppression of voting rights.

The interlocutors also took account of the way that increasing diversity in a process like DK requires a combination of courage and strategy.  The focus was on the brilliant work of Reverend Barber and the NAACP, on the one hand, with roots in the civil rights movement and groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, not to mention the Communist Party, and on the grassroots rise of Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay/Trans activists whose sophisticated and powerful understanding of the current sociopolitical context is fascinating indeed.

Other presenters looked at Asheville as a heart of progressive media, at the State and WNC as exemplary of the local urban-rural divide, and at the coming likelihood of irreversible climate catastrophe.  Discussions were very informal and generally full enough of profanity to elicit smiles and relaxation.

A big part of the local contextualization was the importance of face-to-face relationships, at the very same instant that the reflexive bow to ‘social media’ was also omnipresent.  It was all extremely interesting.

From a Spindoctor POV, the lack of a strategic component to the exchanges was troubling.

“Whereas history without data is at best merely storytelling, data without history is at best a random shot at change that is likely to be pointless.”

He recalled the National Democratic Party’s rooted connection with ‘right-to-work initiatives,’ with White Supremacy’s prevalence, with imperial imprimatur from Korea to Kabul, and challenged those present to “spend at least as much energy insuring that the likes of us are in control of NDP as we do in vilifying and attacking Republicans.”

He also noted that, since we can stipulate both the general and human-fueled inevitability of a warming planet, an obsessive emphasis on the geographic and meteorological details—no matter how brilliant—is of less utility than insisting that we address the social inequities and divisions that guarantee that the results of climate change will be carnage and mayhem.  Presenters acknowledged that, from Southwestern Asia to the Caribbean and beyond, aspects of current conflicts and chaos illuminate the social attributes of a ‘climate crisis.’

Altogether, the day was a huge boon to collegiality and the possibility of connection.  Certainly, no one will ever fault DK for not meeting folks much more than halfway in coming to terms with what’s up and what’s next.  What will we do about it here in the hills?  That of course remains to be seen, though, as always, inquiring minds would like to know.

 

An Incisive Lesson in Political Economy

‘Sharing,’ ‘Corporate Social Responsibility,’ & ‘Free Markets’ Themselves Require Social Democracy

This is a first installment of several about the phenomenon, or fantasy, of Corporate Social Responsibility.  It contextualizes the entire series for readers, which will follow in upcoming posts.

moneeOVERTURE

Here we all are, a part of the sharing protocols of the world’s economy as it teeters on the verge of freefall crashes that could result from diverse dynamics, copious causes, or multiple directions.  In fact, our personal or collective political-economic-survival-modules might hurtle over the edge and into a death dive from the merest nudge, according to some analysts, let alone from a ‘perfect storm’ of manifold interlocking effects.

In this context of, to say the least, tense anticipation and occasional intense dread about the future, voices en masse pose the question that ‘Vladimir Bolshevik’ asked citizens everywhere to ponder way back in 1917, to wit, “What is to be done?”  Every Spindoctor installment has in fact insisted on offering suggestions respond to such an inquiry, though a much-too-substantial portion of the narratives that contain or imply this interrogatory in the wider mediated world either give no inclination to think in terms of solutions or provide only the most superficial, even naïve, directives and admonitions about how to manage the present pass.

In that regard, one might consider the marketing muscle, management theory, and public-relations punch that, at their best, have advanced as a response to Lenin something akin to the following summation.  “The world is complicated, so fixing anything can’t happen overnight or easily; nevertheless, by facilitating and otherwise supporting and operationalizing Corporate Social Responsibility, both individuals and such collective agents as bureaucracies and political parties and other groups can have a powerful positive affect on the issues and difficulties characteristic of everything on Earth at the moment.

Today’s exercise in a deeply-delved reportage will contemplate this notion.  It will follow the organizational course of all the Spindoctor essays that have emanated from this Contributoria phase of things, as with so much in this ‘brave new world’ of sustainability and crowd-funded disruption, a quicksilver blink of the proverbial eye.

This initial section, as has been the case since a friendly critic recommended such a shift, more or less begins with a brief capsulization of the hypothesis that, in rejoinder to management’s take above, this installment purports to prove.  “As with every fix that capital advances in its own behalf, the trope of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is at best a plausibly useful way of thinking that, in its current guise, represents most optimistically a woefully insufficient formulation and perhaps more likely a consciously-selected diversionary tactic for those who would do anything at all to delay, if not derail, the absolutely reasonable, and even indisputable, calls and actions for fundamental reforms—possibly revolutionary reforms—of contemporary ways of doing business.”

There now; that didn’t hurt too badly, did it?  Such a mouthful of words, one can only hope, is clear enough in what it expresses, neither shelling out way too much nor sprinkling about not nearly enough, to set the stage for what follows, which in some ways questions whether capitalist norms are best, or at least whether they are indispensable, in any scheme of ‘doing business’ at the present stage of human development.

17

Defining Terms & Refining Approaches

In manifesting what comes next, a moment of definition and classification may be essential.  Such an approach, in the warrens of Guardian Media, is in turn different from other Spindoctor pieces here, all of which have concerned either events that were tangible enough to require little definition, or socioeconomic or political-economic trends or developments that were also pretty clearly evident in and of themselves.  On the ground, so to speak, plenty of other thinkers are also cogitating this sort of CSR explication, so much so that a very basic search–<“corporate social responsibility” definition OR meaning OR analysis OR explication OR delineation>–yields well over thirteen million links to look at.

From this rich field of source material, one might bring forth a fairly simple statement of CSR parameters.  To wit, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility exists when something like a Fortune 500 firm performs so as simultaneously and consciously to maximize community health and well-being as well as profit, and to carry on in this manner without notable exceptions.’

Moving along a slightly different pathway, one way to proceed in matters of this sort, always a joy in English, is to look at the roots of the key term in the string, responsibility, and to ponder its sources.  Not surprisingly, these come down to Latin elements, which specifically refer to the making of vows and the provision of dialogic or discursive guarantees.

The evolution of the word itself flows through the verb, “respond,” and the noun, “response,” which are both at least seven hundred years old and the adjective, “responsible,” which became common enough at most a few hundred years later.  Essentially, then, the core of Corporate Social Responsibility has flowed from mutual conversation toward duty.

One of the web’s chief online etymological authorities gives an investigator a helpful start.  “Responsibility” stemmed from “responsible,” which meant basically “’answerable’ (to another, for something), from obsolete French responsible (13c., Modern French responsable, as if from Latin *responsabilis), from Latin respons-, past participle stem of respondere ‘to respond’ (see respond).  Meaning ‘accountable for one’s actions’ is attested from 1640s; that of ‘reliable, trustworthy’ is from 1690s.  Retains the sense of ‘obligation’ in the Latin root word.“

Wikipedia’s service, the Wiktionary, also serves up useful material about the noun itself here in question, which in turn dates from the mid-to-late eighteenth century.  Of particular note are the more-or-less corporate implications of the word in military terminology, where both the authority to carry out tasks and inherent attributes that relate to property and money are present.

Such linguistic thinking, on the one hand, can be dry, a bit formulaic, and can raise the mere behavior of using one’s vocal cords to pronounce certain sounds to a level of moral and practical consequence.  On the other hand, however, such a process of pondering these language points can lead to fruitful ideation, if one remains open and creative about the practice as such.

In this case, for example, one can constructively notice the way that responsibility originates in answering back.  The implication of dialog, of a two-way or multisided conversation among engaged agents, is a powerful starting point.  At an absolute minimum, no responsibility would be valid or viable that was one-sided only, that emanated exclusively from one party’s views or agendas.  This conceptualization has deep and widespread applicability in the arenas, contemporaneous as well as historical, in which such matters have arisen.

The proof of this assertion will soon be obvious.  It boils down in some senses to the practical advice that students and other populations that the Spindoctor has studied have retorted to those who insisted that top-down reformulation and recontextualization would ‘help’ those who were struggling with whatever intensification of distress was under the microscope, so to say, in a given instance. As a recent syllabus repeated the notion, “Nothing about us, without us, can be for us.

32 grassroots

Practical & Operational Expressions of CSR

At this juncture, though, in addition to this admonition, we might want to weigh more practically and generally how actors in the here and now conceive of Corporate Social Responsibility, not simply as a meaningful phrase, but as a social, political, and economic progression.  Several search strategies can assist this effort, much like these two: <“corporate social responsibility” exemplary OR specific OR particular OR individual cases OR firms OR companies OR corporations assessment OR benchmark OR scorecard OR evaluation OR measurement>; and <“corporate social responsibility” example OR examples OR “case study” OR “case studies” OR instance OR instances>, both of which provided well over ten million resulting connections.

Opinions vary about how to proceed to define CSR more specifically, but an observer might find some agreement—explicit or implicit—that the conception must include, at an absolute minimum, several core components.  One would be that wage-earners in the company’s employ have their human rights, which absolutely must include their labor rights, respected without exception. Another would be that the company’s environmental impacts—its waste, its energy usage, its effluent streams, and more—would be fully sustainable.  Yet another would be that its lobbying or other such activities would support the capacitation of workers elsewhere and the promulgation of environmental policies elsewhere in similar ways as the truly responsible corporation practiced in its homeland.  A final piece of this assessment of CSR’s existence would be that such a firm, in its relationships with suppliers, sub-contractors, and other necessary or opportune joint venturers, would also deploy and insist on such standards.

One might add a good deal more.  Issues of empire, of civil rights, of support for democracy, and further factors that a decent world entails—in which decent companies play their roles—might be useful or at least interesting to explore.  Certainly, in any case, something like the core description above provides a launching pad for an explication of CSR in the here and now.

In thinking about whether CSR along these lines is extant in any context whatsoever, an investigator would at a minimum discern two overall camps that present polarized perspectives on the sense and consequence of this now-almost-ubiquitous formulation.  One point-of-view would contend something like the best-case summation at the start of this report, more or less like this:

  • As a necessary adaptation in the evolution of the free market, large numbers of companies of different sizes in different industries have adopted various policies in relation to multiple issues—air quality, water quality, climate change, food additives and supplements, genetically modified organisms, workplace safety, labor rights to organize, payments to and standards for subcontractors, arms sales, waste clean up, renewable energy prioritization, and innumerable additional matters—that put a social good or benefit above profit or other ‘bottom-line’ orientation;
  •  A decidedly opposing perception also appears quite frequently in the ‘marketplace of ideas:’ While apologists for capitalism want always to emphasize how ‘markets’ ‘efficiently’ incorporate necessary reforms—improved environmental quality, superior occupational safety standards, human rights improvements, the permitted presence of an active and worker-controlled labor movement, increased application of energy efficiency and appropriate technology, eliminating ethnic and gender chauvinism, reducing police predation, reduced predation against weaker nations, ending militarism and conquest, and so forth and so on and on and on—in reality such views are at most fantasies and more often cover-ups for institutional arrangements in which both business organizations and government agencies with which ‘executives’ share a revolving door always put profit uppermost, generally advance profit as the only business value, frequently engage in profiteering and other predatory behaviors, and occasionally indulge in corrupt practices or outright plunder, and then, finally, lie about, cover up, or ignore such customary behaviors.

A search such as this, <“corporate social responsibility” disagreement OR polarity OR polarization OR contradiction OR contrary OR contrariety OR dissent OR dispute>, elicits a bit more than six hundred fifty thousand citations of possible use in seeing this bifurcation of viewpoint more exactly.  One might continue in this vein for many pages.  However, perhaps readers and researchers could agree that an either-or differentiation does in fact describe this arena of the present-day, even as some analysts will balance their narratives with aspects of both points of view.

Thus, in essence, a two-part musical movement, as it were, delineates the meaning and subtext of Corporate Social Responsibility.  On the one hand, defenders advance it as anything from useful reform to magical panacea.  On the other hand, critics decry it as some combination of error and duplicity and malfeasance.

cropped-p10100012.jpg

Coming Down to Cases: Getting Real About CSR

Having come to this conjunction, we are now ready to see how reality matches these dialectically juxtaposed perspectives.  In the current unit’s iteration of things, this discourse will continue with a three-part rubric about the sorts of conditions that might, theoretically or conceivably, fulfill the much-vaunted promise of the CSR ‘movement.’  An appraisal of how responsibly companies and sectors are performing will accompany this introductory explication’s development.

If Corporate Social Responsibility is valid and viable as a construct or expression of the real world, then one of three things ought to be true: one, at least a single company of significant size and heft must exhibit a ‘socially responsible’ footprint across the board, as it were; two, some industrial or other operational nexus of capital generally and as a whole must demonstrate ‘social responsibility’ throughout its area of expertise and focus and output and so forth; or, three, some theoretical and conceptual thinkers or populizers or policy makers must offer a combination of credible ideas and tangible suggested actions that could realistically, in a current capitalist societal context, result in CSR’s imprimatur coming to pass in such bona fide ways as numbers one and two embody.

In the first place then, one may begin to wade through some of the tens of millions of search results to try to find a CSR pearl or two or three or more.  Having done this for many years, a Spindoctor summary would be, quite simply, “It’s hopeless!”  In any event, twenty pages deep in any of the various strings that have harvested such a copious crop of erstwhile responsible corporate wannabes, one cannot find a single real contender of “any significant size and heft.”

How paltry, some combination of hilariously or frighteningly so, this assertion of any general CSR foothold really appears becomes clear when one considers the actual articles that result from sifting through such evidence.  The chronicler who shouts out that he has a solid example can only offer pipsqueaks, whose efforts are at best limited and self-regulated; any journalist who scrutinizes large industrial, financial, or otherwise commercial operations invariably finds multiple deficiencies in even the most elementary aspects of actual Corporate Social Responsibility.

Business Daily News, for instance, wants to advance twenty cases as providing some measure of proof that such qualities are more than fantasy.  All of the listed firms are start-ups or otherwise tiny establishments at the outlying edges of corporate capital.

Moreover, their basis for inclusion as outposts of responsibility in the corporate sphere is uniformly self-diagnosed and rarely ventures beyond the merest whiff of ‘good citizenship.’  In other words, they give some money to charities of their own choosing or follow guidelines that they or others of their ilk have promulgated.

This is the sole visible typology of the outlier endeavors.  Even if one bent backwards to find such capitalization of ‘significant size and heft,’ its instantiation simply would not fit the advertised bill of goods.

abandoned gas station south0010

‘LEGACY’ FIRMS

A much realer perspective is possible, of course.  A present-day law review article examines four highly-capitalized, oligopolistic corporations—Coca Cola, Walmart, Apple Computers, and Canon—and paints a much bleaker portrait of the CSR landscape that these organizations depict, mentioning in passing Dukes v. Walmart as an indicator of how far one of the selected coterie has to travel to ‘measure up’ to even the most meager standards of decency and equity.

The authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group.  Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group.  Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.

Reasoning counterfactually, to be able to proffer the affirmation of Corporate Social Responsibility in a completely convincing fashion, one would need to be able to state the following ‘facts’ as applicable to Coca Cola, or other firm of appropriate “size and heft,” for instance.  ‘Everywhere that Coke has a corporate imprint, it pays a living wage and otherwise honors and supports its workers; it produces products that are close to 100% health-promoting and that do not deplete or pollute precious environmental resources; it does not target vulnerable populations with its advertising or use toxic or addictive ingredients.’

Whatever one feels about a particular brand—no one is suggesting that picking on Coke is helpful or fair—such a characterization as the prior paragraph contains is simply impossible to prove, and, in the alternative, it is quite simple to disprove.  The company-by-company search for a valid CSR candidate, in other words, looks like a long shot indeed.

A young scholar from Australia has recently examined Starbucks communications policies in a somewhat similar fashion.  “However, one can argue that there is a lack of salient self-beneficial economic motives throughout the report and the website in general, which could cause stakeholders to be somewhat skeptical.  It can be interpreted that the motives behind the CSR activities are presented as being too philanthropic, which can cause the stakeholders to suspect ulterior hidden motives.  This potential issue could be addressed by providing information illustrating how the different initiatives benefit Starbucks by creating value (i.e. profit or shareholder value).“

Put more matter-of-factly, this public-relations thinker is suggesting, if it looks and smells like bullshit, then proprietors had better apply perfume or otherwise adjust the bouquet if they want people actually to believe these types of representations.  The web materials are replete with analyses like this, which acknowledge the weakness or self-serving and self-deceiving aspects of CSR operations in such a fashion as to suggest amelioration or fixes that do not actually create responsibility along social lines so much as proffer moves that can make the alleged ‘responsible’ corporate behavior appear more authentic and palatable to onlookers, and perhaps especially to prospective critics, not to mention shareholders or other investors.

One could, arguably with great ease, take the list of whatever corporate ventures are the set of firms of “significant size and heft” that all presently want desperately to merit the label of a CSR outfit and one-at-a-time demonstrate that not even a solitary corporation of this sort fits the CSR bill of fare.  In miniature, this subsection and what follows does just that.  With more time, or a specific challenge, all comers would, in the view of this report, ultimately fail to meet even minimal requirements of anything capable of sustaining the label, Corporate Social Responsibility.

 

12SHINY NEW EXEMPLARS

Along similar lines, in the limelight of the ‘sharing’ and caring of supposedly up-to-the-minute instantiation of super, ultra-CSR efforts, Uber at once reveals the erstwhile epitome of ‘sharing success’ and, as is visible below, offers a cautionary tale in how exploitative and inequitable such arrangements actually are in day-to-day reality.  In one of the few credible, if not ‘rags-to-riches’ at least Ford-to-Ferrari, success tales in the ‘new economy,’ Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp—not ‘trust-funded’ fellows, these, seemingly—managed to turn a modest investment of venture capital millions into untold billions of ‘shareholder value’ that has as a result ‘transformed current relationships in positive and far-reaching fashion.’

Or so the story goes.  In an explanation that shows greater ‘critical distance,’ Internet Is Not the Answer author Andrew Keen makes the argument like this.

“Kalanick’s $18 billion venture is certainly a badass company, with customers accusing its drivers of every imaginable crime from kidnapping to sexual harassment.  Since its creation, the unregulated Uber has not only been in a constant legal fight with (urban areas) and federal regulators, but has been picketed by its own nonunionized drivers demanding collective bargaining rights and health care benefits. …

With 7.5 million Americans working in part-time jobs in July 2014…(this) ‘revolutionizing’ of the world’s workforce is, in truth, a reflection of the new poorly paid class of peer-to-peer project workers, dubbed the ‘precariat’ by the labor economist Guy Standing.  ‘With piecemeal gigs easier to obtain than long-term employment,’ warns the New York Times’ Natasha Singer, this highly insecure labor model, the dark underbelly of DIY capitalism, is becoming an increasingly important part of the new networked economy.”

Nor does this monograph single out Uber as ‘exceptional’ in this regard.  The entire Silicon Valley miracle machine comes in for equally skeptical, if not scathing, treatment.  “Class War” is its operational heart, its spiritual core.   Destruction is its economic foundation, though the attendant mayhem and carnage is always ‘creative’ and ‘efficient’ from the POV of wealthy venture funds that seek a cashout from their routine functioning and success.

“If poor people and unions are the problem for Silicon Valley’s tech elite, then technology, and the Internet in particular, is always the answer. …(T)his delusional ‘thinking’ … has infected San Francisco, transforming one of the world’s most diverse cities…into a laboratory for an outsourced, networked economy that wants to feed people Soylent and employ them to wait in lines.

…(T)here is no role for unions, no place for anything protecting the rights of the laborer, no collective sense of identity, no dignity to work. …It’s a two-tier system of overlords and the unemployed and the underemployed and the occasionally employed.  An economy in which menial tasks are handled by an outsourced underclass who will do anything for an hourly rate on labor networks… . commodifying life itself so that everything—from buying a rose to waiting in line—can be bought and sold.”

Another documentary item delineates very well the pros and cons of this ‘disruptive’ development and how it relates to both the whole realm of ‘sharing’ and corporate responsibility.  In the end, everything bourgeois that succeeds becomes a vehicle for monopoly, for taking over everything and pulverizing any operation that competes into ruin.

This sort of new-age entrepreneurial “vision is much more than a better taxi service or nifty town cars for the masses… .(It contains) the potential for a smoothly functioning instant-gratification economy, powered by the smartphone as the remote control for life.  ‘If we can get you a car in five minutes, we can get you anything in five minutes,… .’  But the desire to enter and dominate the ‘everything economy’ echoes the ambitions of much bigger and more established companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.”

A recent assessment in Naked Capitalism, meanwhile, illustrates political economic underpinnings of the inequality that is inescapable in such a context as in part a result of ‘rent-seeking’ in relation to already extant embodiments of value.  This clearly applies to such phenomena as Uber and Lyft and other sharing archetypes, which in turn tout their more equitable and responsible corporate imprints and footprints and so forth.  Unfortunately, among the multiple drawbacks of social relations and political economy that incarnate a rentier’s attitude are two especially onerous difficulties.

The first concerns the centrality of the agendas and protocols and property and pocketbooks of those who already own most of the planet.  That is the implication of renting, taking what those who hold the title have, and simultaneously breaking it up into tinier and tinier pieces and charging people for any sort of access to those pieces.  The ‘sharing’ that takes place is the right to gain access, for a fee in which one’s bargaining power is minimal or less, to some piece of the pie that already exists in our midst.

The second shortcoming flows ineluctably from the monopolists’ sated feeding on everything that they permit to contain value.  What the world needs in this regard—affordable housing, adequate food, income-producing options for the majority who have nothing to rent but their sweat and their backs and their brains, environmental restoration, cultural rejuvenation, educational flourishing, and almost infinitely more—decidedly does not have ‘permission to contain value,’ although, arguably, such largesse ought to be part of what a democratic society stands for and offers to citizens.

The essence of living in a world where rent is the basis of capital and hence production, therefore, ends up characterizing exactly the opposite of social responsibility.  Because such a fact is, to say the least, highly troubling, those who own all and want to be able to charge for doing anything in relation to what is under their control, see fit to beat their breasts with the promises of CSR, even though they not only never intend to deliver on those vows but also cannot possibly make good on such oaths without fundamentally altering the social relations of production and distribution.

In a more and more fully ‘capitalized’ global marketplace, such parsing of goods, an ‘outsourcing of everything’ in essence, is one response by wealthy stakeholders who want more than anything else to garner the percentage that guarantees that they’ll never have to work for a living or lose the ‘equity’ that they almost always inherited in the first place.  But this ‘response’ is no more inherently responsible than the occasional aberration in Victorian times, as when John Stuart Mill argued that his eureka discovery of the ability to maximize utility promised a real expression of social justice and social equity, a nineteenth century articulation of CSR about which we’ll hear more in the fullness of time.

Another CSR leviathan, in any case, Amazon, has recently encountered a few bumps and lumps in its celebration of its dearly-beloved patina of responsibility in the markets that it dominates, in the event establishing almost a monopolist’s stranglehold on a particular realm of ‘rentals,’ which is to say the resale of used goods of all sorts, in the context of management tools that promise efficient and reliable exchanges for almost anything at all.  A veritable shitstorm erupted from New York Times reportage that, accompanying its leviathan’s reach, it crushed its workers in every conceivable way, milking from them its small percentage but giant volume of profit in such a fashion as to break their bodies and depress their psyches and leave many as so much alienated, depressed wreckage in the process.

That Amazon has intended to posture as a truly responsible corporate entity is incontrovertible.  Whereas the average Fortune 500 company, when one searches for its name plus “corporate social responsibility” OR csr, elicits plus or minus half a million hits, the following string brought forth thirteen-and-a-half million results: <amazon “corporate social responsibility” OR csr>.

Jeff Bezos’ clever acquisition and disruptive transformation of the Washington Post is in a general or overall way instructive in this regard as well.  It returns readers to revelations that the Australian undergraduate just above made plain.  These matters, more often than not—and perhaps almost universally—are about appearances much more so than they concern reality, ongoing practice, or actual performance.  Mediation will always represent a critical component of making an appearance seem a manifestation of a preferred representation rather than a verifiable aspect of reality itself.

Thus, when WaPo seeks to expand internationally, to integrate more and more local publications into its operating nexus, and purports to position itself so as to flourish, even predominate, in regard to networking freelance writers as a labor pool and source of value, citizens and scribes both better beware.  The promise of ‘sharing’ and ‘efficiency’ are quite likely to be another case of self-serving propaganda propagation, on the one hand, and soul-sucking drudgery for small change in return, on the other hand; at absolute best.

Just as with more venerable archetypes of bourgeois legerdemain, in the previous section, so too here then, the proposition is easy to demonstrate that not a single ‘major player’ in this ambit is capable of evincing more than a public-relations front of Corporate Social Responsibility.  Should anyone want to challenge this idea, the only thing that needs to happen is a willingness of the naysayer to go to Nevada and put up enough of a wager to make the effort worthwhile.  CSR as a purported attribute of the so-called “unicorn” successes among ‘Siliconic’ disruptors is, charitably, an absurd assertion.

The Spindoctor’s personal experience, on multiple fronts, further evidences the points here.  In one instance, a must to ponder, he worked for the Corporate Social Responsibility website,Justmeans, as a blogger.  In sixteen weeks there, he created well over half a million words, at the rate of four roughly ten-thousand research-based articles every seven days.

The ‘pay’ was plus-or-minus two hundred dollars a month.  The plaudits were thick to start.  But his ‘beat,’ energy, included multiple reports on matters nuclear as an inherent abrogation of CSR in any shape or form, including various stories—and at least one or two ‘scoops’—about Depleted Uranium.

Despite the fact that his contractual agreement was that he could write what he wanted, since the ‘pay’ was, stating the point generously, paltry, he soon enough received a ‘cease and desist’ order about anything that mentioned DU.  Apparently, the business plan—to cash out with a purchase of the site by AOL—was looking problematic with his articles on view; so much, then, for CSR.

A bit later along the temporal arc, he produced for an already-established division of America Online, the Patch brand.  He warned his soon-to-be assignment editor that any lengthy relationship with an AOL ‘brand’ was approximately as likely as a snowball’s longevity in the fieriest depths of hell, which received chortles and vows of eternal support.

Within five weeks, the Spindoctor’s head was in a sack, and checks from AOL no longer issued, especially at twice the standard rate that Jimbo negotiated measly recompense for the work that he did.  Apparently, his predilection for looking askance at Walmart’s wondrous marvels and his desire to report about daily criminal incidents as social matters instead of as blameworthy moral lapses alienated the overlords on high in Manhattan—again, so much for even a pretense of a responsible corporate entity that wanted to serve its communities with diverse, accurate, and useful information.

Such personal encounters with the more or less total fraud of CSR do not give him ‘an ax to grind.’  He loved producing the materials that he did, on which he still owns a copyright, even though the remuneration for his work was either laughable or grotesque, depending on whether one’s bent at the moment of observation is comic or tragic.  However, these very real and deeply felt cases of peonage and exploitation and dismissal do give him a perch from which to view other cases, all too similar, that reveal the reality beneath the veneer of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Without noticeable exception, therefore, the expressions of CSR that deal with individual cases as such are inseparable from the public relations and propaganda and outright buncombe that present these happenings to the public and thereby hope to increase shareholder equity and profits as a result of such characterizations.  These SOP methods work hand in glove with the propagation of Corporate Social Responsibility as a pretend entity that means little more than “We want you to like, or at least accept, us enough to buy lots of our stuff or services, so we hope to convince you that we’ve got soul and ethics and really care about consumers and workers and communities and competitors and critics and such as much as, or even more than, we care about maximizing our profits.

In terms of large outfits, therefore, enterprises of “size and heft,” so to speak, CSR is at best a façade and quite likely simply a falsehood.  Whether the company in question is an old-line or new-school operation makes no difference.  Profit still rules the roost, or other ‘bottom-line’ considerations necessitate that Corporate Social Responsibility is no more than an advertising slogan, of no greater substance than a cleverly-crafted PR campaign.

Certainly near the heart of this assessment lie a series of observations and appraisals of what we might term ‘monopoly finance capital.’  Through loans, control of equity, and generally holding the reins of political oversight, banks, venture capitalists, and clever ‘investors’ of various stripes—who in aggregate control if not out and out own almost every dollar in the stream of commerce—act as arbiters, gatekeepers, and boards of directors of everything that the ‘Western’ sphere proffers to the world and most everything that emanates from elsewhere as well.

The tentacles of big-money’s ‘Octopus,’ as Frank Norris titled the matter, run the show, own the tent, pocket the gate, and call the tune: top to bottom.  No enterprise escapes this net.

Anyone who believes he can enter a brief that invalidates this point of view is welcome to speak up.  I’m a wagering man.  Let’s go to Nevada and talk about the details of a big bet: nothing even resembling a large corporation fulfills the requirements or delineates the rubric of a socially responsible entity.

38_00392

In the second place then, one could expand the scope of this mainly clinical examination, as it were, to include entire industrial or other arenas.  While an even lengthier effort at documentation than that which this report provides might go into as much detail here as has appeared in relation to individual firms just above, or even more digging might transpire, this is not necessary at this juncture.

An example, or a few, will do.  Churches; Internet; steel; insurance; banking; retail: the possible organizational categories are numerous, but far from innumerable.  The very idea that a sector of ‘production and society’ such as churches, in general, were exemplary of CSR would bring a smile to the lips of those who think subjunctively, to put the matter in grammatical terms.  More mundanely, holding such a belief is, at a minimum, counterfactual.

One might merely assert, based on long experience monitoring such matters, that of all the sectors of society’s socioeconomic sphere that intersect with corporations, exactly one has a minimally plausible basis to survive a summary judgment motion, so to speak, against it in this CSR suit.  That would be the non-profit or philanthropic region of modern bourgeois life.

After all, the conceptualization that great wealth ‘naturally’ wants to give back is as easy to ‘prove’ as the names of great foundations: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg, MacArthur; for those who prefer their generous plutocrats’ exhibiting more currency, Gates or Soros are some of the recent comers.  The idea, in other words, almost demonstrates itself.

Unfortunately, a thorough investigation of this topic would discern more complexity and contradiction than the standard story would contain.  One might readily, after significant time and effort, come to the conclusion that this sector also does not live up to its ‘bill of goods.’

 

39 accessory montageA BASIC ASSESSMENT THAT PROVES IMPLAUSIBILITY

However, a more elegant substantiation of this evaluation is possible.  In any event, as noted, one would be hard-pressed to find a more presentable candidate for an industry-wide or operational area’s quintessence of CSR than philanthropy, at least on the surface, could proffer.

The brief against the vaunted non-profit, foundation, or non-governmental organization space as somehow more pure or sacrosanct than money or its corporate forms generally appear is easy enough to develop.  In particular, one should note that the very form of these efforts to ‘do good’ retains its ties with the monumental aggregations of capital that almost universally elicit less favorable reviews in regard to goodness.

Additionally, two particular points powerfully undermine, even fatally undercut, any hope to pretend that these embodiments of enterprise escape taints that destroy responsibility in the form that we’ve been discussing.  The first concerns in-depth research that refutes such stances.  One might examine the results of a Google outreach like this: < philanthropy OR charity philanthropic OR foundations OR “nongovernmental organizations” OR ngo OR “non profits” “social justice” OR “human welfare” OR csr OR “corporate social responsibility” OR benefit OR advance bullshit OR hypocritical OR hypocrisy OR false OR nonsense OR propaganda> and discover among more than two and a half million citations a significant portion that make the case that shows up in these pages.

In the event, in addition, multiple well-known analyses develop just such an argument as the Spindoctor is making.  Most recently, perhaps—as in within the past month or so—a Danish historian has promulgated a line of reasoning that contends that far from relieving large economic entities from the burdens of their overlordship, so to say, philanthropy and charity and non-profit efforts have in fact not only increased inequality but also have demonstrated their perfect congruence with systematic schisms and disparities and, in essence, continued overlordship of just their monopolistic, bourgeois sorts.

Mikkel Thorup labels this new tendency philanthrocapitalism, which his work examines as one of several “expressions of philanthropy as ideology: … corporate philanthropy, in which businesses engage in social work, and philanthropic associations reengineer themselves to mimic corporations; billionaire philanthropy, in which conspicuous consumption is now being supplemented with conspicuous philanthropy; and celebrity philanthropy, in which one of the hallmarks of being a celebrity today consists in the commitment to turn that fame towards a good purpose.”

His work “explore(s) how(just such) philanthropy may serve to justify extreme inequality.”  Can anyone say, “Bye-Bye CSR?”

He goes on to develop the following contextualization.  “One can interpret philanthrocapitalism as the latest expression of the modern era’s anti-revolutionary, pro-capitalist claims that a rebellion against capitalism will only end in misery and that there is actually no opposition between the market and the common good.  In the 1990s the dominant versions of this antirevolutionary stance were encapsulated in Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of liberal-democratic capitalism as the last good idea and the hype of a high-tech, net-based ‘crisis free’ economy.  Both claims quickly lost persuasive force. The IT-bubble crashed in early 2000 and the movements critical of globalization seriously questioned whether the ‘G8 World Order’ was the only world possible.  It seems therefore fair to interpret the enormous attention to and hope in philanthrocapitalism as an attempt to close the legitimization deficit of contemporary ‘creative capitalism’ where some get more and more but many more get so much less; a development not halted but accelerated by the financial crisis and its aftermath of austerity.”

Again, such elucidation destroys even the possibility that, as a rule, philanthropic or foundation or non-profit endeavors manifest Corporate Social Responsibility in their routine operations.  And once more, this is just one of multiple, authoritative critiques of this type.

The second fatal flaw in philanthropy’s case results from a general overview of the sphere and how it divides into different camps, more or less in terms of a polarization between ‘markets’ and ‘regulation,’ between ‘free enterprise’ and governance.  This distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ outfits, between ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ non-profits, even as these terms are suspect and may in fact be almost meaningless, nonetheless guarantees that within the sector itself, plus or minus half of the operators look upon plus or minus half of the other operators as nefarious or unethical or at least less than optimal, a fact that practically removes all doubt that some participants fail in their ‘social responsibilities’ in one way or another.

In any case, even letting this division between opposing camps lie fallow, to coin a phrase, one more overarching example of errancy is possible to express. Another Danish duo dissects the most decidedly corporate arm of the philanthropic universe in this matter.  Their overview  deconstructs, in a persuasive way indeed, the notion that CSR authenticity is anything other than propagandistic turns of phrases.

“Over the past two decades, a growing number of large multinational corporations have come to view philanthropy as an important part of their business operations.  This has stimulated research on the many different strategies that are pursued by these corporations in their attempts to become more philanthropic while remaining economically responsible.  In this situation, some researchers have argued, corporations run the risk of being caught out as hypocrites.  Through an analysis of the corporate social responsibility reports of the biggest multinational corporations, this article shows how the risk of hypocrisy is managed communicatively through the use of euphemisms.  The article argues that the use of euphemisms makes it possible to communicate both economically and philanthropically without manifest contradictions.  Euphemisms, however, are also risky in their own right.”

This brings at least a pair of issues to the fore.  In the first place, the clear suggestion is that some substantial amount of corporate flack in its own behalf about its ‘philanthropy’ is bullshit.  More pertinent still, perhaps, it implies that the same corporations that we’ve already proven deficient as CSR exemplars have captured, or at least co-opted a substantial part of the philanthropic field.

One might insist on probing other realms, of course.  Additional productive endeavors that could have a surface appearance of likely CSR validation include media undertakings and sports-and-entertainment enterprises.  In the former case, the huge degree of detestation that characterizes present-day monopoly-media’s public opinion rankings would make such a view doubtful, or impossible. In the latter instance, the widespread whiff of corruption in regard to stadium shenanigans and the ‘professional’ disregard for player health, from concussions or otherwise, would likewise scuttle any credible representation of CSR validity.

Without any longing to flee or otherwise ‘cut things short,’ as it were, one can sense a stopping point here.  The area, or perhaps two or three that most likely could materialize a Corporate Social Responsibility presence does not come close.

Again, as in a one-by-one firm search for a CSR paragon, one cannot here discern a paradigm that permits an onlooker to corroborate any field that is worthy of an imprimatur of Corporate Social Responsibility.  Does that mean that such an eventuality can never come to pass?  One purpose of today’s reportage is to approximate under what conditions such occurrences might actually happen.

For our purposes in this OVERTURE, in any event, we have provided an architecture for denying the plausibility of CSR in any real-world, real-time domain that is contemporary or historical, whatever the future may hold.  The Spindoctor challenge in this regard remains uniform: “Would you like to bet?!” Inquiring minds, as ever, would like to know.

 

Picture 5In the third place then, one would hunt for a school of thought or for theorists and practitioners in business and government who could credibly develop and defend the thesis that Corporate Social Responsibility was something that could become Standard Operating Procedure in such a way as to relieve the crises and conundrums that have been universal, and that have arguably intensified and grown less tractable, under corporate capitalism through the centuries.  Indubitably, all types of institutional and individual interlocutors would argue forcefully that they could make such a case.

For example, the search, < csr OR “corporate social responsibility” possibility OR plausibility OR hope support OR backing OR validation OR validity OR proof scholarship OR analysis OR research >, delivers leads that number over thirteen million, many of which would offer staunch support for a CSR perspective.  Outside of a dispensation of eternal life, or something similar, disproving them all would prove an impossibility.  Logistics alone would depose such a herculean effort.

However, in analyzing the inadequacy of several common ideas about how to deliver CSR, this essay establishes a boundary of rebuttal that allows it to move on with the remainder of this exposition.  A not infrequent criticism of these promoters of the possible existence of Corporate Social Responsibility is that they derive payment from, or otherwise maintain useful and important relationships with, the very beneficiaries of the conclusions that they reach.  Such conflict-of-interest at the least biases, and quite likely invalidates, their perspectives as anything other than more PR hype.

More generally, Marxist and radical scholars decry CSR for all kinds of reasons.  These include structural  assessments; dialectical or dynamic  studies; and much more.

Peter Fleming and Marc Jones offer what many would consider a devastating deconstruction of CSR pretensions in their recent monograph, The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique.  They point out the blindness, the hypocrisy, the duplicity, and more that sums up Corporate Social Responsibility as fatuous, even evil.

They begin by relating their experience of sharing CSR images from Google, which often show depictions of Earth, held in strong, caring hands.  Their classes, often consisting primarily of business majors, when asked to interpret these pictures, pretty uniformly note the hoped-for corporate interpretation of such photoshopped ‘graphical-user-interfaces:’ decency, caution, protection, gentility, and so on and so forth.

At that point, “we share with our students an alternative interpretation, one that makes them smile and sometimes frown.  It is clear, to us at least, that there is something obviously (and humorously) ridiculous about the image.  First the idea of giant hands around the world is creepy.  They clasp the earth like some alien god that is omnipresent, evincing an image of total control.  The hands are apparently human, but we never see a face or a body, and one could imagine an abrupt change of mind as the giant nonchalantly squeezes the globe until it bursts like an overripe tomato.  The hands also protrude from a dark jacket that strongly resembles a business suit.  They hold the globe close (especially when poor India or Africa is visible), conveying a Promethean dominion over the planet. … almost as if a meddling humanity has won (even though we know it never does when it has a face-off with Gaia).  Only in its failure does it desire to call the shots and make right the havoc and destruction it has wreaked over the past two hundred years.”

They compare such imagery to the scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator when the fascist potentate bats around an inflated Earth with wrathful glee and disdain for social or environmental consequences.  Such a grasp of the nub of at least aspects of CSR is widespread enough so as, minimally, to insist that no ‘summary judgment’ motion to validate a CSR filing would ever survive an impartial judge’s ruling.

Most centrally of all, though, in evoking the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility exists in any meaningful form other than self-promotion, proponents of such views must willingly, better yet enthusiastically, convoke collaborative and collective conversation on all the subjects that comprise CSR.  In turn, not just some but all community voices and perspectives not only merit, but also command, a seat at the ‘round-table’ of social reasoning and debate.

Unfortunately, to put the matter gently, articulation has been primarily one-way, coming from on high.  Those of us who are ‘low on the totem poll,’ so to put the case, await our opportunity to participate.  Certainly, since all of us who read this are adults, we all recognize that any attempt to resolve conflict and crisis must be inclusive, or the supposed resolution will lack adequate legitimacy, meaning that ‘friction’ will continue and intensify.

This key juncture—where dialog meets society and not merely its upper class—is, quite likely, the real heart of Corporate Social Responsibility.  Either we bring to pass a true social intercourse, or protests and discomfiture will be the least of our worries.

money bills economy

Having demonstrated the fallacy of the most likely assumptions about what could promulgate a CSR agenda, a generalization about other ideation in this vein is possible.  To wit, anything that does not fundamentally reformulate, or remove the right to follow, the profit motive can ever be likely to effectuate Corporate Social Responsibility.

In fact, those rare but real instances of smaller corporate emanations that do at least come close to deserving the denomination of socially responsible are universally those that in fact reduce the otherwise voracious appetite for maximizing shareholder cash-out, now, not tomorrow, but right now.  Thus, profiteering—which basically means and completely implies acting to gain additional profits—can under no circumstance allow the evolution of any sort of regime that we could agree to label an instance of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Readers may or may not accept such a sweeping statement, but a gentle request is apropos in the event of skepticism.  Such a student of life should continue to peruse what follows apace, watching as the historical, empirical, circumstantial, and rational case for the summation above comes to the fore.  Then, the sooner the better, we should talk about it!

The AFTERWORD returns to this issue.  Perhaps a complete consideration of the various elements of this report’s arguments will convince one who currently has doubts.  If not, we can always agree to disagree.  And, as noted constantly, further research, debate, and engagement, in any event, are always possible.

 

Additional, & Summative, Points Prior to Making an Initial Exit

Having illustrated, if nothing else, that a potent brief exists against the idea that even a simple ‘proof of concept’ of CSR is defensible, one might say still a bit more than this prior to moving on toward matters prefatory in nature.  The first point to make is that a more robust ‘proof of performance’ in regard to Corporate Social Responsibility must be further still from realization.

Furthermore, though much more appears about historical matters below, a mere mention seems useful that CSR sorts of beliefs, which show up as briefs in favor of reforming capitalism, are nothing new.  Robert Owen, in one fashion, and Jeremy Bentham, in a related way, demonstrate this inherently CSR creed as a nascent exhibition by those among the bourgeoisie who found themselves inclined to notice barbaric treatment and callous exploitation of workers and nature.

In the event, just a few summary observations can send us on our way, awaiting a fuller presentation soon enough.  A first overall point is that profit always, in the end, took over operations; only propaganda was ‘pure.’  A second is that the bedrock premise of this kind of ‘critique’ was that the rich had to reform themselves, not that any participation was necessary, or even welcome, by workers themselves, who were after all much too likely to be rabble.  Third, many of the specific reforms that Owen in particular advanced became part of a unified platform, which all believers in social justice or social democracy accepted and promoted, of which the most well-understood sample might be the Eight-Hour-Day.  One might continue; such amplification awaits, in any case.

Also pertinent to both restatement and a widening of discourse is to amplify the argument, mentioned above, about engagement, dialog, and participation.  Most any analysis of Owenite ‘failures,’ its ‘unfortunate’ tendency toward dissolution or corruption, would elevate the lack of participatory democracy as a key basis for systemic breakdown.

One could name names here.  Jürgen Habermas comes to mind; Slavoj Zizek; Benjamin Barber; Paulo Freire; plus countless others.  The interested student would not suffer for lack of material, a small sampling of which is also upcoming.

In any event, a reader who comes this far has seen quite a bit already.  First, the additions and initial deductions here are apt to note.  Second, the text has revealed multiple reconfigurations of the prime argumentation, so to speak.  Third, various ways of thinking about, and wrestling with, the engagement with, evaluation of, and actions regarding Corporate Social Responsibility have put in appearances so far.  The upshot, too, of course, is clear: CSR pretentions may be merely some mix of a shell game and a dog-and-pony-show, or they could be something more sinister and insidious; whatever the case may be, no workable demonstration of substantial CSR is extant; furthermore, and finally, the construction of the social tango about these questions is at best flawed and insufferably one-sided.

 

Ending Our Beginning

If nothing else, the briefing that takes place here permits a sturdy response to the frequent complaint that characterizes the current pass, in essence that the truly lovely potential of CSR has gone down in flames or up in smoke because of bad people, bad management, or some combination of the two.  On the contrary, any sort of careful evidence-based review would retort, the very heart of the matter or belly of capital’s beast makes even the best laid plans, the most beneficent of intentions, a chance to pave a path to hell.

Therefore, a reader might evince the capacity both to circumscribe and circumnavigate the realm of the denizen of Corporate Social Responsibility.  In essence, the context of CSR presumes or substantiates the dominance of capital, an assumption or assertion of hegemony that everyone who is not a denizen of capital’s total imprimatur would do well to question closely and treat skeptically.  This should do as a start, in any event.

A query related to defining and explicating CSR ought also to appear obvious.  “Why are such ways of thinking and analysis so common now, and over the past period of time?”  The next section addresses this query indirectly, by uncovering the deeper historical roots of capital’s ongoing tendency to devolve into disruption and mayhem.”

… to be continued…

9/11 & The Karma of Empire

Here is an idea that I’ve expressed on wood, which my wife and I transform into art. “That yesterday affects today is no more in doubt than is the fact that the mother’s experience of gestation influences the birth and future development of her child: truly the past authors the present in similar fashion as the rains of Spring induce the growth of Summer and Autumn’s bounty, or lack thereof.”

800px-Sept_11_monument_in_NYC_-_August_2004Time’s touch often enough caresses one’s memory, as one might experience on birthdays or other repositories of fond recollection; at other junctures, however, the temporal interface has more in common with a jab in the gut or an ax in the face.  Most people in North America would likely see September eleventh as such a problematic point in time for purposes of recalling the past.

Especially when pain or plaintive loss characterizes the way we remember a particular yesterday, we owe ourselves—unless our hope is to maximize the generation of more such memories—a stalwart attempt to understand how what was painful and harmful came to pass.  Such thinking would, as just noted, probably apply to most Americans’ feelings about what happened in New York City fourteen years ago.  Thus, we ought to inquire why and how jets flew into skyscrapers, and we should willingly dig deeply in seeking answers.

Especially in the United States, however, such sifting of days gone by for insight to the present pass presents a nearly intractable problem. Media repeatedly obfuscate and falsify, or at least trivialize, what happened.  Standard-issue or other ‘accepted’ history books provide assessments that are partial or plain wrong.  Discourse and debate about how ‘bad things happen to good people’ is, charitably, sadly inadequate.

Were the results of these patterns merely a lack of closure and a missing out on understanding, these eventualities would be bad enough. When such archetypes of prejudice and ignorance make probable, or even certain, upcoming new disasters that stem from inadequate capacity to contextualize the roots of events, the cost is incalculable, possibly including the destruction of human life on our planet.

23 911 septIn relation to matters like 9/11, plenty of writing on this year’s September 11th speak to issues of note in regard to our beliefs about andremembrance of things past.  Very few of them, however, at least here at home, have anything to say about what took place twenty-eight years prior to 2001 on that day, thousands of miles to the South in Chile.

The events there—involving premeditated murder of at least ten thousand people—resulted from explicit planning-assistance and other resources that the United States made available to the assassins and butchers who ran Chile on behalf of demonstrably imperial and illegal interests for fifteen years after the terrible occasion of 9/11/1973.  If citizens here do not understand these things, then the next ‘terrorist’ attack on North American soil will be much worse.

Therefore, on this day, the Spindoctor is posting a thorough—which means lengthy—investigation and analysis of what transpired in Chile forty-two years ago, reportage that has had a life online already but which is worth proffering again for people again to have the chance to read.  At least, it is worthy of further reflection if we hope to avoid upcoming catastrophes markedly more dire than anything that’s take place plus far.

In our regular aggregation of Daily Links, a Thought of the Day appears.  Here’s one from this week that may be apt. “What the futuremight deliver is often enough much more in keeping with one’s hopes and needs than the seemingly arcane intricacies and paradoxes of the tumultuous present, all of which of course comes to us from a past that appears inscrutable enough to forestall our investigating it carefully, a truly unfortunate error, since the only way that tomorrow’s light will be likely to shine sweetly in our favor is if we comprehend yesterday well enough both to see the current moment clearly and accurately, and then to set a course for an evolution of today’s reality that this awareness designates as at least plausible, as well as necessary for the fruition of our goals and objectives.”

Again, here is the link to “’United in Blood’ Against Empire—Jara, Neruda, & Chilean Culture’s Social Solidarity Impact”

Neruda, Jara, & Chilean Culture’s Social-Solidarity Impact

OVERTURE

As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply.  One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing.  Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”

39 accessory montageThe winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect.  The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.

Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams.  Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals.  They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment.  They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire.  Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.

As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy.  One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections.  One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.

Víctor Jara's grave in the General Cemetery of Santiago. The note left reads: "‘Till Victory!"
Víctor Jara’s grave in the General Cemetery of Santiago. The note left reads: “‘Till Victory!”

With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document.  Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.

Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge.  They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away.  Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem.  We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.

Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination.  Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.

“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”

One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox.  The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue.  At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.  They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.

These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger.  One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present.  Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.

Mural_Victor_JaraAt one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade.  The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.

Victor’s face blanches.  He must sense what is pending.  At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.

Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded.  Two men restrain him from rising.  A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling.  Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists.  Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.

Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly.  He begins to weep.  Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.

At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo.  One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.

On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed.  Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America.  Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”

Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine.  This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.

allendeThis Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more.  Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism.  In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.

The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara.  Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.

Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.

The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward.  For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere.  Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.

Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed.  With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact.  With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer.  So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.

Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict.  In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.

The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment.  Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimes against humanity.

These pronouncements are quite specific.  They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes.  Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.

To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought.  This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone.  In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.

An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows.  As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.

media 24Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba

The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best.  “I don’t care about history.  I don’t like history.  History sucks.”  No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.

When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents.  In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is.  Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.

Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about.  Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.

In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe.  In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.

Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.

  • A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
  • The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
  • What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
  • One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.

In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.

In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid.  Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.

Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America.  In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations.  The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.

Street of the Jews in Lima, Peru in 1820
Street of the Jews in Lima, Peru in 1820

“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army.  President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well.  The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos.  In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible.  I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here.  We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise.  In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”

Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful.  “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.”  Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule.  They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.

Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform.  On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins.  For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.

One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823.  He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.

The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke.  “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”

England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before.  Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.

Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.”  The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.

Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia.  “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy.  Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo.  The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant.  Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.

Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed.  Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.

This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another.  In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.

But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable.  Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.

480px-LocationNSAm2Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South.  In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’

The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life.  That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course.  So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.

The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy.  In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand.  Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchase Texas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.

383px-WilliamWalkerThe wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down.  Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.

Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California.  When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.

He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America.  He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad.  He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.

Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events.  What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.

The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases.  Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.

Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge.  He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’  They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return.  When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.

A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines.  In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.

More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions.  Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still.  He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.

“Another wave rolls on.  The men of capital and enterprise come.  The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn.  The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen.  Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”

However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit.  After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’  In this context, voila!  All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.

Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.

And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil.   None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.

“(W)e all know the nature of that duty.  (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba.  This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza.  The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties.  These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”

Through all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign.  Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’  At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.

“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere.  ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’  By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.

That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface.  Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however.  “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase.  Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.

Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’  This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’  The name constitutes an enigma.  The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812.  Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders.  The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”

Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power.  In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly.  “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”

One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps.  Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.

"SmedleyButler"
“SmedleyButler”

In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist.  His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service.  “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps.  I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General.  And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.  I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time.  Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.  I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street.  The record of racketeering is long.  I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.  I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”

In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long.  This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’

In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes.  Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more.  But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.

One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature).  A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture.  The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.

Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel.  Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.

A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here.  But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.

We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda.  Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.

"Mural Gabriela Mistral" by rhurtubia / Ricardo Hurtubia
“Mural Gabriela Mistral” by rhurtubia / Ricardo Hurtubia

Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally.   “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”

She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse.  Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War.  Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”

She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps.  She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.

Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world.  Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.

“The whole world has gone astray.  Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why.  The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity.  Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”

Reckon - flickr
Reckon – flickr

By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit

In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole.  Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.

The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices.  On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.

The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist.  Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.

Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least.  His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built.  His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.

He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother.  He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.

Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on.  Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.

She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could.  From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.

In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe.  Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.

In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life.  He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.

He powerfully propounded the Republican movement.  So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post.  However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.

Stamp_Pablo_NerudaHis popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life.  He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.

His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest.  He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.

He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience.  He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter.  Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks.  These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.

When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead.  Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head.  One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.

Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach.  There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets.  They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.

Steven Zucker flickr
Steven Zucker flickr

Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death.  When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.

He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.

  “(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.  If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity.  Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”

Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other.  Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.

Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator.  All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry.  He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.

He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff.  A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice.  “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides.  I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats.  In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations.  And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States.  Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’

“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman.  Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”

Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance.  “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”

A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende.  Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.

However this is not likely true.  At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.

Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.

His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th.  She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point.  “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him.  I was exhausted with nervous tension.  Pablo is very agitated.  He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country.  ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me.  ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces.  The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies.  Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara?  He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’  As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything.  ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces.  Didn’t you know that?  Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale.  And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”

Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart.  The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.

Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral.  For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.

Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests

Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage.  The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns.  This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.

A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections.  In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.

Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation.  That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.

Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic.  “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.

It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors.  With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.

Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman.  She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men.  The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.

She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest.  Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.

He has arrived in search of her.  He has an intuition that she is his mate.  In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.

They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn.  She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.

Sally flickr
Sally flickr

Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories.  This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted.  Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.

One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing.  She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos.  Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”

She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto.  “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies!  Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”

A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature.  While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.

Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge.  Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case.  Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.

“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country.  The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories.  Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape.  Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”

Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life.  Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives2666, and Chile by Night.

In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage.  For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.

“What twisted people we are.  How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down.  How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what?  To hide what?  To make people believe what?”

This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease.  In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.

A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans.  Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.

"José Donoso (1981)" by Elisa Cabot - Flickr: José Donoso 1981.
“José Donoso (1981)” by Elisa Cabot – Flickr: José Donoso 1981.

“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language.  Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”

“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine.  The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor.  Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.

Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears.  Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.

Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life.  This is no accident“The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life.  Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”

Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors.  Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”

One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara.  For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.

Mural_Victor_JaraVictor Jara’s Iconic Presence

Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness.  Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way.  His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.

The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work.  His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family.  As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.

This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up.  She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.

"1979 Homenaje a Víctor Jara" by CARLOS FERNANDO MATAMALA RIVAS
“1979 Homenaje a Víctor Jara” by CARLOS FERNANDO MATAMALA RIVAS

Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage.  Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.

When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional.  Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools.  Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.

What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen.  Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.

Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military.  Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.

Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance.  His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.

In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife.  Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.

Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland.  He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.

Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director.  So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.

Streets of Santiago de Cuba - CHristoper L flickr
Streets of Santiago de Cuba – CHristoper L flickr

One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America.  An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.

After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political.  His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.”  In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues.  He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.

Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile.  His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violeta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.

Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star.  The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.

At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!”  Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.

The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor.  The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.

Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life.  He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant.  His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”

‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots

The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate.  While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.

A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close.  The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.

But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign.  After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year.  Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.

A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still.  As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.

Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary.  Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.

Violeta Parra
Violeta Parra

Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei.  The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge.  The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.

Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note.  The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.

One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus.  “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power.  Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society.  As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music.  Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life.  Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”

Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position.  On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song.  Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.

“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”

The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo.  Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.

In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur.  Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.

One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself.  Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.

In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation.   “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted.  As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”

As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region.  Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.

A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway

As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible.  Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.

todosnuestrosmuertos flickr
todosnuestrosmuertos flickr

Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An  Unfinished Songsummarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problems but from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.

Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history.  Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.

In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches.  It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t.  I’m an artist, not a politician.’  It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed.  The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”

But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement.  “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”

Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile.  This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter.  He is a careful scholar.

“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy.  The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”

"Bookcover for the book "The Pinochet File, A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability"
“Bookcover for the book “The Pinochet File, A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability”

In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations.  Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed.  He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.

“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences.  But that is not what really happened in Chile.  …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action.  In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme.  The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup.  ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation.  The truth is far more sinister.  The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup.  CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela.  On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters.  The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated.  Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”

Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President.  Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.

In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’  Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear.  The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals.  Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone.  A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”

In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile.  Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.

These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire.  While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.

from School of the Americas Watch for sale

The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas.  The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor.  Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’

The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth.  This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving.  The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.

A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.

To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982.  Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.”  Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.

The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser.  Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.

One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out.  He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.

While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.

His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… .  Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen.  It was a real blow.  All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’  Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’  Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office.  Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende.  One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says.  ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves.  I was stunned; I was aghast.  It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’  The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election.  ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways.  The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”

Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s.  The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.

From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers.  Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields.  He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.

In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander.  After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious.  We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”

What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding.  Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.

Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone.  Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things.  This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.

“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings.  At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”

The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable.  Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.

Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands.  While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’  The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.

Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”

A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch.  The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all.  “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated.  The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun.  During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”

This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States.  This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.

Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military.  Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.

“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973.  It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”

Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce?   This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair.  The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.

How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy.  One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.

Dictators Triptych pinochet

“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement.  As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s.  The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis.  The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”

And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak.  At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.

*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.

*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.

*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.

*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.

*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.

In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?”  And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”

The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be.  He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project.  She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.

Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us.  “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation?  Does it affect you, and if so, how?”

And this is how she answered.  “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship.  Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured.  For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other.  I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished.  People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest.  We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all.  We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances.  (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”

Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out

Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course.  Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.

Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment.  In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.

This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up.  That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.

Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above.  Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.

One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism.  Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.

The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens.  This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.

The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time.  Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States.  Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.

The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia.  The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.

jara-etcFrom Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation

Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible.  John L. Rector’s The History of Chile concludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.

A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency.  “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.”  He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”

He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting.  He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.

Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass.  His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.

Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories.  She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.

Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly.  Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta.  Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.

Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.”  And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.

Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation.  That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.

A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully.  Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.”  The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process.  ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”

He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar.  “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights.  Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.

book hor2

Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist

Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion.  Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.

In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould.  “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire.  Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.

“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… .  (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force.  The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination.  Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”

In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted.  Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.

“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”

As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half.  “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left.  The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”

A FIRST DEDUCTION

Of course, Che was not Chilean.  Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile.  But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’

In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase.  He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.

Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago.  One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo.  A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.

Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.

And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba.  He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together.  Cuba received him as a distinguished guest.  He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.

Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy.  Such statements were often enough completely explicit.

In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’  The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”

Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba.  One of these has requested anonymity.  Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup.  She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.

In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs.  That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident.  And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.

A SECOND DEDUCTION

Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity.  The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage.  Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism.  These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.

Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America.  Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.

“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution.  They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”

This sort of attitude had practical implications.  In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist.  Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.

“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign.  The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende.  Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, financed, and implemented the Scare Campaign.  The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers.  By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”

Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics.  In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.

The practical upshot is simple, therefore.  If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism.  Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.

A THIRD DEDUCTION

Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak.  This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.

The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation.  A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.

Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon.  In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.

No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism.  Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.

A FOURTH DEDUCTION

In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy.  Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.

One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared.  Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny.  Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.

In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’  The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.

James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago.  “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”

In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets.  The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.”  Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.

In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas.  The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.

Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove.  Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.

That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself.  A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation.  It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.”  Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.

Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more.  After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.

The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement.  “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”

At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions.  Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues.  Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.

Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense.  We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.

If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail.  In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt.  An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.

In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance.  Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.

A FIFTH DEDUCTION

Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction.  And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up.  Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.

For example, one might consider the following search.  Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.

If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse.  Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.

How about the good old U.S.A.?  Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry.  Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.

A SIXTH DEDUCTION

Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process.  This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.

However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer.  Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well?  If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.

Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive.  Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits.   Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.

Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this?  Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.

In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work.  Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.

First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us.  The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense.  Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.

The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds.  Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative.  The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances.  The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well.  One might easily continue.

Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides.  Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination.  The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort.  And one could mention many other instances.

Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success.  This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list.  Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have.  This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.

Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways.  Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work.  Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”

AFTERWORD

In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking.  But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.

In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe.  With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear.  Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people.  The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused.  I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”

No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government.  This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival.  In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.

The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point.  The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.

The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute.  Government documents admit as much in various forums.  Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.

Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents.  Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.

Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.”  Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices.  The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind.  The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”

This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba.  A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine.  The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”

In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism.  If recent events in VenezuelaArgentinaHonduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.

Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba.  Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel.  Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.”  One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.

Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations.   Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance.  Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.

An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded.  “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election.  On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet.  Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror.  This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right.  In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power.  Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration campscensorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices.  Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”

Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf.  He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.

Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat.  If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here.  I am working for Socialism and through Socialism.   As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism.  We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular.  That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.

Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara.  Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”

Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply.  “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts.  We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones.  It was a moment that stays with me forever.  A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration.  It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”

Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song.  Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.

On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant.  His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./  Love for the earth that helps me live./  Love for education and of work./  Love of others who work for the common good./  Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./  Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./  Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./  Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./  Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./  Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”

Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Seven Decades & Counting

"Evening Glow over Hiroshima," woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi
“Evening Glow over Hiroshima,” woodcut by atom bomb survivor, Asai Kiyoshi

Either Countdown to Armageddon, Or Countenancing Humanity’s Rise From Capital Intensive Empire

I’ve written about Hiroshima in general for forty odd years, and I’ve composed something tangible for every annual commemoration of the bombing for plus or minus a decade-and-a-half. Thus, again, I proffer ideas about this event and the even more egregious slaughter that followed three days hence at Nagasaki.

I can offer evidence for all that follows. That data, and those citations and links and sources, make a persuasive, perhaps a dispositive, case for all that follows below. However, I’m not bothering this year to provide citations or links or other connections to that material, except to refer anyone interested to items that I have been composing for lo these many years about all of this.

Instead, here I am—as old as the hills, a veritable representation of Father Time, who appears again, Cassandra-like, asking for attention on which human survival depends—with a relatively brief listing of conclusions about what Hiroshima means for, what it implies about, and what it portends for the human condition. The hundreds of thousands—overwhelmingly, women and children and elderly non-combatants—whom United States action incinerated in 1945, and the plus or minus tens-of-millions—a much more varied demographic—who have subsequently expired as a result of the subsequent iterations of the Uranium economy and the Modern Nuclear Project might if nothing else appreciate our considering such anniversaries as this one as an opportunity to reflect both on making human survival more likely rather than less likely, and on facilitating rather than precluding human thriving.

nagasaki_hibakusha1
detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki

The dead call us to account. They beg for our attention. The words of a translation that I’ve done of Sadako Kirihara‘s poem, “New Life,” articulates this point:

Her promise is the one we live by still.
Even in the fires of hell, as life’s blood seeps away,
We will bring forth new life, even unto death.
A birth to tie ourselves to Earth even as we go,
Life is our vow; life is our will.
My advice is that folks pay attention, but I’m not attached to advising such. People can do whatever they like.

The following five conclusions are merely a tiny sample of critical or at minimum useful deductions about Hiroshima’s impact or significance. However, they do represent far-reaching or even central judgments in regard to Hiroshima’s influence on Homo Sapiens’ problems and prospects.

First, the innovation and enterprise and work of nuclear research and development have always been near the top of the agenda of monopoly capital. This extends from well before the ‘discovery’ of radioactivity and the actual structure of the atom.

Whether one examines Germany or England or Japan, the elevation of scientific inquiry and expertise, and the delving of electromagnetism in particular, have sought to turn the nature of nature to the purposes of profit. The names of the principle-investigators in different cases end up reading like a who’s who of nuclear history—from Farraday to Teller, from Einstein to Thompson, from Curie to Soddy, from Becquerel to Szilard, from Fermi to Heisenberg.

nuke-banner
Moreover, these people themselves, as in the case of ‘Lord Kelvin’ or Frederick Soddy, or their backers and funders, were central actors in the monopolization and financialization of capital’s ruling dynamic. Those who picked up the tab for the increasingly expensive devices that the likes of Lawrence Livermore and Ernest Rutherford and others dreamed of building always represented vast wealth and even plutocracy: the Rockefeller interests’ ubiquitous presence on the subatomic research scene, Ernest Solvay’s family’s ongoing imprimatur in these matters, and the presence of other multi-billionaire financiers such as Alfred Loomis and Alexander Sachs among the ‘hobbyists’ who effected the Modern Nuclear Project altogether demonstrate this conjunction between the bourgeois stratosphere and the revelation of colossal ‘energy-potential’ from the atom and its components.

Second, the Manhattan Project, which in and of itself is another irrefutable agglomeration of evidence in support of the first point, had as its primary purpose the creation of mass-murder devices to serve the geopolitical and imperial agendas of the monopoly capital puppeteers who ‘paid the piper’ all along the path to apprehending these fundamental energies of existence. This is not some ‘conspiracy theory,’ but is an unmistakable “conspiracy fact” as the redoubtable if not completely ‘respectable’ Michael Rupert put the case.
Moreover, the connection between an interest in nature’s energy stores, the electromagnetic spectrum, and a bomb ‘destructive enough to make war unthinkable’ rests at the root of the entire process of investigation. Thompson’s work makes this clear in general. Both Frederic Soddy’s Interpretation of Radium and the Nobelist’s famed early twentieth century lecture circuit made this point crystal clear. No particle physicist was unaware of the implication of e = mc-Squared.
Not only did scientists and businessmen apprise themselves explicitly of this connection between the EMS and weapons of unimaginable lethality, but writers and other artists all along narrated this scenario, decades in advance of the creation of the aptly named Manhattan Engineering District. Frank Stockton’s The Great War Syndicate, H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free, Eric Ambler’s The Dark Frontier, and Robert Heinlein’s Solution Unsatisfactory are just a sampling of the yarns—that none of them are literary gems is beside the point—that ‘scoop’ the ‘great secret’ of nuclear weapons by periods of a few years to nearly a century.

Palomares_H-Bomb_IncidentReturning to the Manhattan Project itself, the decision to use the weapons twice against civilians had three essential rationale.  The first was to make sure that both enriched Uranium and Plutonium actually worked as ‘fuel’ for mass murder.  The second was to conduct an experiment in how much damage the given ‘yield’ of these weapons would do to relatively undamaged urban environments.  The third was to intimidate the Soviet Union and threaten annihilation to Reds with the temerity to resist U.S. hegemony in Europe and elsewhere.  Neither did the deployment of these engines of annihilation end the war, nor was that their purpose.

Third, from the tellingly named Atomic Energy Commission to the more prosaic and propagandistic appellation of the Department of Energy, the Modern Nuclear Project’s primary purpose has been both the same as number two and the more political economic end of providing hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to exclusively monopoly-level enterprises that exist to create weapons of mass destruction. This phenomenon is now worldwide, despite the U.S.’s retaining its position as ‘first among equals’ in its particular embodiments of Departments of Hydrogen Bombs. To this day, plus-or-minus fifty percent of DOE funding is for one aspect or another of matters nuclear.
An inevitable offshoot of this now ten-to-fifteen trillion dollar ‘project,’ which does not even include the massive ‘investments’ in energy production from fission and fusion, is that literally everything else in the nature of social development falls by the wayside, except for other developments with similar promise to financial monopoly and imperial predominance. Thus, despite almost half a century of predictions that the MNP would inevitably collapse under its own weight—of inefficiency, genocide, and police state guardianship, it has instead gained strength and continues to be the fantasy child of the likes of Bill Gates, Paul Allen, George Soros, and others of the erstwhile ‘progressive’ billionaires, about whom Ralph Nader only half jokingly quipped, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us.

Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant
Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant

Fourth, in the final analysis, ‘civilian’ nuclear power and ‘military’ nuclear weapons—a la the early Atomic Energy Commission—are indistinguishable: nuclear power guarantees nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons make inevitable forays into power production. France may be the best example of this assertion, or the United States, but not only is Israel—at once a protégé of both France and the Yanks—absolute proof of the case, but also the entire imbroglio around Iran’s ‘nuclear plans’ further demonstrates the contention.
Wherever one looks in the nuclear sphere, this conjunction is immutable. For decades, Japan seemed an exception to the rule, along perhaps with Korea, but both are angling for their own arsenals of megadeath now, as is Brazil, and of course, India, Pakistan, Britain, China, and Russia long ago verified that this notion is, at a minimum, hard to rebut.
History, if one is willing to examine its annals, provides still further substantiation of this case. Atoms for Peace was, as J. Robert Oppenheimer pointed out and Jimmy Carter’s managerial legerdemain at DOE illustrated further, a public relations stunt in support of nuclear weapons. From the Tennessee Valley Authority to utility and technology monopolies’ restless insistence on more and bigger reactor projects, as well as more and ‘smaller’ reactor projects, the entire ‘Nuclear Fool Cycle stream is replete with militarized applications, from mining surveys that explore for Uranium or Thorium deposits to Depleted Uranium’s now ubiquitous and insidious presence in Army ordnance around the planet.

nuke weirdoFifth, capitalism’s continuation guarantees continued nuclear weapons protocols; therefore, remaining committed to capitalism guarantees either extinguishing anything like human society’s viability or an extinction of humankind altogether. The increasing impoverishment of social justice and economic democracy are ‘unfortunate byproducts’ of the Uranium Economy’s continued pride of place in plutocratic fantasy. The destruction of the human condition is, given time and tide, an absolute certainty if the UE and the MNP continue to hold sway.
To an extent paradoxically, and in another way of thinking quite naturally, the only antidote to this stranglehold on our mutual future is the rise of worker power. Capital—whatever strains or splits have riven different sectors or nations or cliques—has ultimately always deferred to the ‘necessity’ of an ongoing extension of fission and fusion research and the primacy of such investment strategies.
A clear implication of this line of reasoning concerns the issue of power, of social heft and capacity. Obviously, poverty, prisons, chauvinistic ethnocentrism, eviscerated education, and half a hundred other problems absolutely demand attention and focus. However, if survival matters, what contextualizes and conjoins all of these single issues, including this hideous morass of death in the nuclear sphere, is how working people can come to exercise power in the world. Otherwise, whether we live long enough to snuff ourselves out in one heated rush or expire from one version or other of a ‘death from a thousand cuts,’ none of our specific concerns will ever amount to more than ‘academic interest’ or ‘passionate desire.’

In the event, this essay deals with Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their ongoing relevance. The trigger for the decimation or even the annihilation of human society and its seven billion current cousins could come from India and Pakistan; from Israel and Iran; from North and South Korea; from Europe, the U.S., and Russia via Ukrainian or multiple other flashpoints; or from the U.S. and China as a result of various bones of contention. The ecocidal events that could follow from such engagement is not, moment by moment, very likely, nor are the sorts of alternate routes to human extinction high-probability scenarios.

However, as any gambler or statistician or wise observer of events knows, given enough throws of the dice, every possible outcome—even those that are at any given point exceedingly implausible—will occur: without exception. Therefore, if the conjunction of nuclear-armed nations continues, eventually our kind of creatures will simply no longer exist on this planet, at least under any set of circumstances that we would assess as humane.

A summary of all this rumination could fit a shtick such as the following. It could serve as a stand-up routine in the right hands.

“So everybody, howdy!
Man do we live in interesting times, or what? I mean, no doubt about it, we could live like Solomonic kings. There’s plenty of stuff to provide every person with that level of food and income and housing and so on.
Or we could keep on keeping on the way that we are. In that case, eventually, again beyond the shadow of any doubt whatsoever, either we will kill almost all people, or we will instead murder everyone, down to the last child, woman, or man who currently draws breath.
That’s the choice that we now face. We will continue to confront this pair of alternatives until one of two things happen: either we get rid of the nuclear death sentence, or we or our offspring will bear witness to carrying out this population-wide execution.
The way that things now stand, the obvious assessment of our mutual selection is clear. ‘Hmmm! Live like royalty or commit mass collective suicide? I mean, what a no brainer! Let’s kill each other and party, party, party!’”

Life has imitated art. We are embodying the words of Tom Lehrer’s songs, “So Long Mom, I’m Off to Drop the Bomb!” and “We’ll All Go Together When We Go.” At least, this will prove so unless we wake up, all too likely very soon.

As John Hershey wrote at the end of Hiroshima, “What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima. …(And now, as the years unfold), the (survivor’s) memory, like the world’s, (i)s getting spotty.”

‘Caitlyn’s’ Campaign

 

TRANSGENDER ‘IDENTITY’ & THE CONSCIOUS SUBSTITUTION OF THE SURREAL FOR THE REAL

Just as so often will be the case in these occasional ‘Popular Topix’ installments, so too in this inaugural instance we would do well to remember Harry Frankfurt’s pointed opening to his essay, On Bullshit.  “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.  Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share.  But we tend to take the situation for granted.  Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.  So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry.  In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.  And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us.  In other words, we have no theory.”

Frankfurt’s explication of the ‘theory of bullshit’ will serve us well today, as we consider what one stalwart defender of advertising and monopoly media called “The Making of Caitlyn Jenner: A Media Campaign Like No Other.”  The author described simply what was “(t) he goal: To make it possible for Bruce Jenner to live normally, and perhaps even profit from, his new identity as Caitlyn Jenner.”

This missive in no way disrespects the possibility or choice of transgendered identity; it does not criticize or cast aspersions at Jenner herself, or at the former Jenner himself; it does not question the right of anyone to make such choices.But it fiercely disputes the celebration of celebrity culture and the elevation of incredibly marginal social phenomena to the absolutely central, obsessively and strategically so, spectacle that the whole affair has become.

How this concerns bullshit is simple.  Varied cases of the framing of Jenner’s decision have used descriptors such as courage(), commitment(), human rights(), determination(), and freedom(), among other fashionable phrasings of identity and individualism.  At best, such characterizations tell barely half the story, and precisely this partiality and selective focus are the prototypical attributes of propaganda and other aspects of contemporary public relations and purposefully mediated bullshit.

Before unfolding the brief that constitutes the fleshing out of this relatively simple concept, i.e., ‘Caitlyn Jenner’s reinvention = bullshit,’ we would do well to recognize a few things that this missive is not.  It in no way disrespects the possibility or choice of transgendered identity; it does not criticize or cast aspersions at Jenner herself, or at the former Jenner himself; it does not question the right of anyone to make such choices.

But it fiercely disputes the celebration of celebrity culture and the

GeneralMills Wheaties/Bruce Jenner
GeneralMills
Wheaties/Bruce Jenner
elevation of incredibly marginal social phenomena to the absolutely central, obsessively and strategically so, spectacle that the whole affair has become.  Its stalwart critique, today at any rate, stems from four central points, and one intellectual assessment, though with even a modicum of additional attention, the entire assessment could easily expand to cover many a monograph of social deconstruction.

To inaugurate this discussion, one might focus on data about just how widespread anything that we might call transgendered life and consciousness is.  Finding such information, despite the billions of clicks that Ms/r. Jenner’s experience has caused, proves difficult.  However, at least one source(), vaguely authoritative, does present readers with a sense of how likely transgender phenomena have become since such an idea has gained popularity over the past half century or so.

The upshot of this search is the likely fact that in sixty-nine years—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—plus-or-minus 36,000 people() have had similar psycho-physiological experiences as has Ms. Caitlyn Jenner, in that they have moved beyond a mere inclination to consider themselves as different from their birth gender to take steps to transform into  the other half, as it were.  In other words, at any given point over the past seven decades, maybe ten or fifteen thousand folks would have fallen into an active embodiment of a transgendered experience.

Having started with a quotation from the good professor’s Bullshit monograph, I would ponder the deeper meaning of that number.  After all, we inhabit a planet on which seven billion people or so live, on which a billion or so a day are in the process of starving, on which tens of millions of people have died in combat during the same span, on which hundreds of million or even billions have faced stark conditions of incarceration over the same decades.  Literally one could go on and on and on and on and on in tallying those whose cause, let alone whose person, has failed to merit a spot on the cover of Vanity Fair or Time Magazine.

From this I would posit an initial argument, first, that the amount of notice that s/he has received is wildly disproportionate either to the general extent of the social occurrence that sets Jenner apart, or to the actual numbers of real people involved.  Without any doubt, other groups—vastly larger—and at least equally deserving of attention—their relative obscurity at least in part a function of both their not having come from inherited wealth and their not focusing fanatically or even exclusively on themselves—have not garnered as much publicity or interest.

Essentially limitless examples exist of very precise social types—to go along with the more general social sets noted above—who are, at a minimum, equally ‘dedicated’ as Jenner, equally ‘brave’ as Jenner, equally ‘individual’ as Jenner, whose stories and accomplishments rank with Jenner’s, and who are just massively more numerous than are Jenner and all h/er/is coventurers.  To name just a tiny few, we might consider plus-or-minus a hundred million veterans who have served in wars, the more or less five million veterans who have died in wars, uncounted tens or hundreds of thousands of people who have killed themselves because of their ‘medications,’ a smaller but still substantial cohort of people who have killed others because of their ‘medications,’ sixty million or more people who have suffered abuse because of their refugee status, billions of people who have faced horrific victimization because of their ethnic status, tens of millions or more people who have lost their homes, further billions of people who have endured the ravages of poverty and homelessness, etc., etc., etc.

Mike Mozart flickr
Mike Mozart flickr
Whether in the supermarket isles, where tabloids give credence to the notion of an ‘All-Jenner-All-the-Time’ media, or in more ‘serious’ broadcast, web-based, or print journalism over the past few months or so, basically nothing—till Charleston’s grotesque mayhem evolved—has outperformed Caitlyn’s and Bruce’s ratings.  Hell, they’ve outhyped the NBA playoffs and the Stanley Cup by a ratio of five or ten to one on many measures.  Although one might hope the conclusion would be obvious, one can never take such points for granted in the kind of vapid vacuum that typifies contemporary critical thinking.

Therefore, here is that deduction that ought to ‘go without saying:’ this almost incredible level of promotion of a particular cause, at best a little brazen, and completely bizarre to boot, has zero to do with the social or philosophical or scientific importance of the underlying eventualities, which is to say that a wealthy superstar has been taking hormones, has elected not to cut off his penis or root out his testicles, and now can claim to look pretty striking in fashionable and no doubt extremely expensive women’s attire.  Something is out of kilter in this whole scenario.  It is much more than merely a ‘tempest in a teapot,’ another case of a ‘tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Having come to this point, then, second, I simply must contend that the money bills economyreasons why Ms. Caitlyn Jenner has received this blessed attention are important to understand.  Among them is the fact that, as already alluded to, s/he came from substantial money, with recent evidence of this fact clearly present, such as in her/is membership in a $300,000 membership private men’s club that primarily offers its members chances to play golf.  Jenner’s birthplace in Westchester County New York was one of the world’s wealthiest places, and his place at that point in such a scheme of things ought to be obvious in relation to his marriage to Kris Kardashian, the trust-funded heiress whose husband had been the “high-powered” and upper-crust barrister, Robert Kardashian.

While nothing about silver spoons inherently condemns them to evil ways or vicious beliefs, no matter the Nazarene’s thoughts about any particular camel’s difficulty in waltzing through a needle’s eye, both one’s capacity to pay for the expenses of sex-change fetishes and the networks and cashola to manage a massive media campaign about such a choice are much easier to manifest if one has a gigantic bankroll to bring to the process.  In part because he was a savvy businessman before she came to the forefront, in part because he was ‘to the manor born,’ Jenner has brought just such wads of cash and plethora of connections to all of his ventures.

Another rationale for this really wacky level of interest in this erstwhile paltry matter is that it focuses on a particular element of individuality, or identity, that by its nature one can imagine as exclusive in every sense—i.e., ‘no one else is precisely like me,’ and ‘only those very much like me are welcome, or worthy of membership, in my club,’ for example.  An obsession with self, in other words, on anyone’s part, may represent a sine qua non of becoming a cause célèbre.  That such a ‘culture of narcissism’ (lasch) prevails in the good old U.S.A. is, if not utterly certain, an easy-to-argue possibility that many people who study such things closely would agree is a part of the cultural heritage of Yankee life, the ‘American Century,’ and so on and so forth.

An additional component of zeroing in on why this rich person’s highly and purposefully personal affairs ended up so popular is that such a project entails a substantial potential for developing commodified interventions—the special dildos to keep her/is faux-vaginal opening ready, willing, and able; fashion lines for that specific ‘plus-size’ that includes former pro athletes who have feminized themselves; training schools for the surgeons and attendants who participate in various aspects of the ‘big snip;’ and so on and so forth, etc., etc., etc.

This substitution of magic nonsense for any real sense of achievement or transformation is a major piece of how capitalism manages its social and psychological difficulties in a fashion that does not threaten the system whatsoever.

One overall aspect of this section would also be a discussion of commodity fetishism, possibly in conjunction with alienation.  This substitution of magic nonsense for any real sense of achievement or transformation is a major piece of how capitalism manages its social and psychological difficulties in a fashion that does not threaten the system whatsoever. The assertion that nonsense is a part of the package is as simple as the fact that Jenner has elected to keep her penis, even as she insists that absolutely nothing is amiss in her assertion of a female status.

The overall point of this second sort of assessment of the Jenner juggernaut basically adds up to being real about both the sources of the story’s every reaching the top-of-the-fold, so to speak, and being clear about what the narrative will never really be about.  Thus, in any event, such focal pieces of Caitlyn’s story have next-to-nothing to do with human rights, absolutely zero to do with social justice, and less than nothing to do with serving humankind generally.

Third, for this initial new blog item, one has little choice but to explore the very definite social imbroglio, with immense potential for real harm, that inevitably attends this very intentional obsession with her/im.  For one thing, this genuflection to Jenner provides a flashpoint for conflict that not only can go nowhere, but also must in fact make people want to give up dialog and engagement completely.

rally 3For another, more obviously, the capitalization of bullshit inevitably causes a huge opportunity cost, in that little or no mediated space is available for actually crucial problems and issues that afflict, every day, all men or all women, which happens to be almost exactly one hundred thousand times more people than have undergone, in seventy years, what Caitlyn has experienced of late.  Of course, plenty of crucial issues, which receive little or no sustained attention of the sort that Ms/r. Jenner has attained, also affect everybody on Earth, which is to say two hundred thousand times more people on a daily basis than fit in Jenner’s fetishized category over the course of seven long decades.

Again, bringing such discourse to the table does not for an instant question Jenner’s rights to live as a woman, her/is legitimate expectation of decency and respect or at least a willingness to tolerate on the part of other citizens, her/is freedom to promote herself/himself in any way that he wants.  But it critiques and calls to account all of those who would orchestrate these rights, expectations, and freedoms as centrally—or really even marginally—important elements of the general social dialog about humanity and how we are to live and thrive in relation to each other instead of collapsing and dissolving in fantasies of individual fetish and distorted views of life and psyche and nature.

Fourth, in keeping with this inevitable grappling with nature’s imprimatur, if one wants to foster even the merest modicum of integrity, one must deal with biology, even if that will make probable major shitstorms of contention and abuse.  While one can posit masculine and feminine as social categories that aggregates of different people, at different times, have constructed differently, one simply cannot avoid the bedrock reality and necessity of male and female as biological categories that have the same potent essence as categories of plant and animal, of primate and ungulate, of newborn and elder, and all of such elements of nature’s sweet and sour panoply.

Moreover, in the specifically human realm, whatever the role of constructed identities, the overwhelmingly vast majority of men live as men and women live as women.  So much is this so that, in percentage terms, at the absolute maximum one two thousandth of one percent of men or women are following the Jenner way, so to say.  And such a generous view of the matter would assume that all 36,000 of trans folks from the past seven decades were creating themselves anew now, which the data do not support.

Again, to repeat, this does not demean Jenner or any of his tiny coterie of cohorts.  It does not impugn their election to switch.  It does not impinge on their liberty to spend their trust funds or hard-earned coin as they see fit.  It merely points out the biological anomaly that they evince and questions, stringently, the manipulated spotlight on Jenner that has resulted in a mediated frenzy about this very, very tiny slice of human existence. Surely, wondering about the rationality, not to mention the optimality, of such a relentless highlighting is worth a thought or two or three.

In this regard, the recent brouhaha about Rachel Dolezal provides a rich nexus of instruction.  In terms of her storyline, she is essentially indistinguishable from Caitlyn.  Of Czech, German, and Swedish genealogy, for reasons of inclination and opportunity, she ‘passed’ as a Black woman for many years.  She now maintains that such a decision was justifiable because she ‘identified,’ or in other words, liked to believe that she was an African American, precisely analogous to Jenner’s ‘identification’ as a woman, which amounts to little more than her/is sensibility that this choice-of-identity makes her/is assertion of it a fact.

In this regard, Dolezal bears more than a passing resemblance too to untold but possibly large 33 RACISM JVnumbers of partially African-American folks who’ve passed themselves off as ‘Caucasian’ over at least the past couple of centuries, including even light-skinned slaves() who escaped the lash by going on safari with darker members of their families, who played their chattel and their servants for the show.  These types of accounts prove dispositively that the whole concept of ‘race’ is nonsensical from the start(LINK). Unlike gender, racial categories have absolutely zero biological basis.

The reason is simple why this story about a fabricated racial identity appears here, adjacent to a critique of how the social presentation of Caitlyn Jenner’s fabricated gender identity has unfolded.  Jenner’s handlers offer her/im up as a heroine, whereas Dolezal wears the mantle of the charlatan and the villain.  If for no other reason than to inquire about double standards, Ms. Dolezal deserves her turn on our stage.  In other words, “Why is Caitlyn Jenner a heroic role model, while Ms. Dolezal is an execrable fraud?”

A reformulation of the ‘why’ question can round out the analytical section of this essay.  We definitely find narratives like this alluring, whether Bruce or Caitlyn is the tagline, a man’s abandonment of himself to become a female simply an irresistible premise for clicks and views and what not.  These yarns tantalize us like the science fiction of M.A. Foster, whose characters lived for centuries and generally spent a hundred years as a woman, followed by ten decades or so as a man, and then back again.

The deep fascination that we feel for such sorties more or less fully emanates from the way that, with a dark intensity, the font and frolic and frenzy of our fucking—sex and human sexuality in all possible ‘flavors’— compels a level of captivation that is unsurpassed in its ferocity.  Eros provides half or more of literature’s energy source and nearly all the wellspring from which our continuation as a species is possible.  Is Caitlyn Jenner’s coming-out party really so special in this light?

Caitlyn’s story has next-to-nothing to do with human rights, absolutely zero to do with social justice, and less than nothing to do with serving humankind generally.

One could easily turn to a Nobel Prize laureate like Sigrid Undset, whose Kristin Lavransdatter and Master of Hestviken series ooze erotic fervor and every sort of twisting and turning of the masculine and feminine that are today au courant.  Or one might delineate how Geronimo, when he was leading the Apache resistance, used cross-dressing tactics to instill terror and foster mayhem among gringo and Spanish cavalry alike.  Or one would be able easily to locate manifold mythic traditions that have bent gender’s ‘natural’ appearance: father’s assuming mother’s garb at rites of passage can be de rigueur; maenad fury at prying men’s participating in their ritual abandon forms the stuff of legend and drama.  These and countless other examples are readily accessible, any one of which is at once juicier and richer than the innuendo and pretense that are the primary material of the Caitlyn shtick.

Furthermore, and finally, in the course of a life fairly full of incident and experience, I personally have encountered transgendered people, in contexts that compelled interest and attention, though no one had the public relations muscle and hustle to command a Vanity Fair or Time Magazine cover.  My first long term sweetheart, dear Doris, when we broke up in a burst of gory glory, ended up with a fine fellow who within a decade had taken Bruce’s route for himself, albeit two decades ahead of Ms/r. Jenner.  Doris’ partner kept his ‘equipment,’ but otherwise he lived as a woman, so that his two sons had, in a complicated sort of way, a birth mother and a father-mother as well.

In another instance, in one of the many logistical interludes that formed a part of my ‘back’s supporting my wrist’ strategy for almost a quarter century, a good friend whom I moved for the third or fourth time promised me a rare treat “for your story files,” as she put the case with a knowing nod.  After I had assembled the bed and attached all the mirrors and such, she ushered an extremely striking woman into our midst.  She was at least six foot three inches tall and extremely well-proportioned.  She was once a he, my friend explained later, something that I had almost instantly surmised, though I wouldn’t have guessed that s/he had served as a flanker for the Atlanta Falcons, a pro-bowl candidate, moreover, whose orientation was gay.

He “switched teams,” as my merry friend stated things, and broke off his long-term relationship with one of his opponents on the New Orleans Saints, an even burlier Black linebacker with whom he had been lovers since college days.  “She wanted to try men who wanted women,” my client said.  Three years or so later, this friend and customer called to schedule another relocation, and she took the time to give me an update as well.  “There’s a lot more,” she conveyed with a tone of amazement.

The football couple had cared too much for each other’s company to part permanently, so the newly inaugurated she took up again with her former lover, only this time as a heterosexual experience.  That went on for a time, and then the once-fully-gay linebacker decided that he wanted to experience attachment with men who really dug women, so he went through the change as well, surgery included, like his former gay and now transgendered sweetie.  That kept on for a year or so, but the connection between these two athletic specimens was just too powerful, so they became, in the end, a transgendered lesbian couple, which continues to this day, despite the wear and tear of managing their manufactured vaginas.

These tales are captivating; no one can deny that, whether one’s perspective is judgmental or tolerant, whether one is like me and subscribes to a live-and-let-live philosophy or feels that morality should rule between the sheets and below the belt, so to say.  The point, however, is that, in a final sort of assessment, their meaning is much more about the fancies and fetishes that we buy, the alienated itch to try a different path, and mediated manipulation that aims to distract people from certain types of stories by substituting other renditions in their place, than it is about rights or courage or any other significant moral, ethical, or social good.  And that conclusion stands in stark contrast to the tone and content of Caitlyn’s and Bruce’s plus or minus hundred million Google hits.

 32 grassroots

At the end of the day, another remark from Harry Frankfurt, early in his essay, provides an apt way to end today’s episode.  “Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted, or dumped.  It may have a more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly not wrought.

The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain.  Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity.  It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim.  It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite.  But in fact it is not out of the question at all.

The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.  And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who — with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth — dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right.“

The Princeton philosopher’s observations clearly apply, both to Mr. Jenner’s marketing decision to become Ms. Jenner, and to the carefully crafted contextualization of this elective move as a ‘courageous,’ ‘determined,’ and deeply ‘personal’ ‘commitment’ to such values as ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights.’  Such a storyline is bullshit, and today’s posting proffers, if nothing else, an inaugural and limited corrective to this.

The Game of Kings Meets a Prince of Death

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Gamboling Amid Gamblers Indeed

The nature of narrative is to nurture the spin of everything in the cosmos so as to tell all the twists and torque and tension and torture that underlie even the most mundane and placid surfaces.  That said, when one steps back from certain stories, an honestly simple central message emerges, a notion that intersects with and helps to account for literally everything in the tale, even as the wacky hairpin turns and upsurges of brutality and mayhem seem to indicate intricacy and complication that would seem almost impossible to unravel.

ArtFightTo some extent, this prevalence of a predominant pattern is present in today’s telling, which concerns at the level of the basic plotline one of the most marvelous pastimes that humans have ever devised, albeit backgammon is less popular now than it has often been historically.  The core component of the yarn that the Spindoctor proffers here flows inherently from the nature of ‘the King of Games,’ to wit that managing risk will always confront those who take chances with precipices at which David Bromberg’s advice, in “Diamond Lil,” would be apt to keep uppermost in one’s mind: “A man should never gamble; a man should never gamble; a man should never gamble, more than he can stand to lose.”

Nonetheless, in some senses as a matter of course, every breath that we take is such a wager: whether in crossing the street or staying on the sidewalk, whether in diving in or jumping in or simply wading in little by little, whether in kissing and telling or hoping for discretion, no matter the conjunction that an actor confronts, issues of life and death can come to the fore whatever choices one makes.  Thus, the best that anyone can hope for is to manage the inherent dangers that the world dangles in front of us, with the allure of spun sugar to the hungry infant, so as to maximize one’s joy and potency, to optimize one’s interactions with oneself and others, and to minimize the likelihood of pain and carnage as the steps that make up every journey unfold as we perambulate along life’s highways.

Looking at the life of Marshall Beatty, as the Spindoctor has come to know it—not from God’s perspective, by any means, but with a measure of eyewitness and hearsay and circumstantial knowledge—one might suggest that this dear fellow, whose charm and looks and intellect and passion were lovely, if not legendary, to behold, may indeed have overstepped the bounds of balancing the maximizing and optimizing of the positive with the minimizing of the negative.  But such a judgment is not the purpose of conveying this account.

This rationale, quite frankly, is that the combination of event and context in the saga itself compels a richly detailed telling and an appropriately amazed consideration of ‘how the deal went down,’ as it were.  In the event, before readers consider the dark pass that this scion of significant wealth confronted in Southern France thirty-odd years ago, a setting of the stage seems apropos, itself in a series of interludes that provide first an overview of the game of backgammon, second a very partial but nonetheless indicative account of how the game has shown up in literature over the years, third a précis of Marshall’s life before he became a wandering gambler, and fourth how he and the Spindoctor spent an Aspen year together in which backgammon was a central organizing principle of their relations.

All of these factors, as observers may soon enough note, so constrained the course of events thereafter that one would find most other resolutions of this drama implausible, if not unsatisfactory.   Whatever the case may be, perhaps the witch of the west stated the case most reasonably: “All in good time, my pretties, all in good time.”

20150325_212212 (2)A GAME OF DICE & CHECKERS, & ALL THE CHOICES IN THE UNIVERSE

Two dice for each player; fifteen checkers arrayed on twenty-four slender triangular landing points; movement that happens along these points according to the pips on the dice, tossed from a cup; rules that permit blockade, capture, recirculation; and over all a race to the finish, which more or less beckons ineluctably as possible for either side to win under most circumstances: these elements, plus a doubling cube that both increases the cost and skill that the game requires, on the one hand, and speeds up action, on the other hand, constitute the game of backgammon.

An entry from the Eleventh Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica portrays a process that is remarkably similar to what transpires to this day, although the cube was still a decade away from its American inception.  “When a player so moves as to place two men on the same point, he is said to ‘make a point.’”  This building process was and remains fundamental to the contest, as does the following assessment.

The text continues, “When there is only a single man on a point, it is called a ‘blot.’  When a blot is left the man{or checker}there may be taken up(technically, the blot may be ‘hit’)by the adversary if he throws a number which will enable him to place a man on that point.  The man hit placed on the bar{that divides the board vertically into two sectors, out of play}, and has to begin again by entering the adversary’s home table again at the next throw should it result in a number that corresponds to an unblocked point.”

As an exercise in counting, pattern recognition, and strategy, backgammon is indubitably unsurpassed and arguably unparalleled among the ‘board-battles’ that mimic conflict and contention in the real world.  One could validate this fact through any number of research strategies: < backgammon strategy “pattern recognition” OR intelligence OR “conceptual ability” counting OR “empirical ability” OR “mathematical ability”> for example, elicits almost 100,000 useful links.

On the other hand, one could simply choose to trust the Spindoctor’s rectitude in this matter, based as it is on almost half a century of experience.  If one can keep the effort in perspective as both diversion and practice, few activities have a greater chance of delivering clarity in a wide range of strategic and conceptual capacities than does learning and grappling with as close to mastery of backgammon as proves possible in a given performer’s case.

Perhaps more critical to a clear-eyed understanding of the King of Games are the social issues that elicit any such activities among a wide section of every single populace that has ever existed.  For the entire term of the multiple historical records that dot the earth, and in most archeological and anthropological investigations of the previous tens of thousands of years of human evolution, people have competed playfully and yet so seriously as at times to bring forth lethal consequences.

PompeiA relatively intricate search demonstrates this well: < games OR gaming OR play competition OR conflict OR contention teaching OR learning OR instructing OR training history OR origins anthropology OR archaelogy study OR analysis> yields a flood of ‘hits.’  Almost fifty million results attend the entry of the terms in Google, for instance.

The meaning of this plethora and variety of interest and documentation is multifold.  It indicates that, whatever moralists may say, “You wanna bet?” is an ingrained piece of the human psyche.  It shows how learning and teaching inherently intermingle with fun and contests.  It proves beyond doubt that some people will avail themselves of superior strategic ability to gain advantages over others.  It demonstrates how those whose birthright includes less access to wealth and opportunity will use such diversions so as to level the playing fields of existence.  One could go on; and on and on and on.

An anecdote about the origins of chess, long ago in India, is apt in this regard.  The inventor of the game—or in some versions of the legend, a teacher of the game—had an opportunity to name his reward for creating or instructing others about the way to play.

He made the apparently modest request from the royalty who deigned to give up some of its lucre of a single grain of rice, or wheat, on the chess board’s first square, with a doubling of the amount of carbohydrate on each subsequent square.  Invariably, since fulfilling the mandate would have mortgaged the rulers for close to eternity, the agreement never reaches its finish; in many expressions  of the story, the king has the genius commoner who made up the contest and the reward put to the sword, while in others he awards the intrepid daredevil a seat next to his highness or a life with his beautiful daughter.

The upshot of such a longstanding mythos at least contains the following notion.  Life is full of random inequity and unfair competitions.  In such an arena, all activity that helps life’s participants to envision, strategize, and plan are worth a lot, even if they can also cause a ton of trouble.

640px-6sided_diceIn any case, as with most forms of gambling and many types of gaming, a multi-dimensional and often contradictory dynamic typifies how the sport takes shape in the world, especially perhaps in the current moment when so much is in flux and under dispute.  At least a handful of pointers are worth parsing a little.

One aspect of this free-floating dialectic concerns predation and parasitic behavior.  Undoubtedly, some people—and today’s report illustrates this in some ways—take advantage of greater skill or duplicity or other erstwhile playful facility so as to garner the goods and services and cash that others, less capable or ruthless, own and in many cases have worked hard to earn.  In this vein, whatever benefits attend such tactical intelligence, it must also reveal pathological effects.

Another dimension altogether is the simple necessity that any group of people will inevitably actualize parameters that allow socialized competition.  Whether the ‘playing field’ is primarily physical or largely mental—and in every case, both mental and physical strength and endurance are at issue, such gambols in the realm of gaming must be an unavoidable accompaniment of humanity, if only because never has any group left an impression on the planet of its existence without also providing observers after the fact with some evidence that such pursuits have taken place in that societal nexus.

At least one additional element makes an appearance, in the event as something like a stage for class conflict, or even class war, to occur.  This applies immutably to the countless incidents in which the Spindoctor has practiced gaming, especially backgammon.  With virtually no exceptions at the outset, a potentiation of Robin Hood has transpired at the table, since basically all of his opponents have ‘middle-class,’ bourgeois, or trust-funded roots.

That this point inevitably dovetails with the initial thought is interesting. No doubt, outside of the ivied halls of privilege where the oh-so-lucky Jimbo matriculated, such observations as attend his initial sessions become more complex, multisided, and ineffable.  Thus, this view also suggests the dialectical and paradoxical interplay that games such as backgammon universally bring to the forefront.

ArtFightA penultimate note ought to include the way that the multi-player version of the game takes place.  Chouette, any such backgammon skirmish that involves more than two players, most powerfully embodies how groups and individuals must bargain among themselves to balance cooperation and competition, collaboration and individual action.

One final idea bears mentioning here.  It concerns the absolute need—for healthy bodies and minds—that people have for diversion.  Despite this requisite part of human existence, of course, it all too often these days pops up as one rendering or another of the ‘bread and circuses’ strategy of Rome’s most nefarious and plutocratic emperors.  Without a single doubt, a game like backgammon appears both positively as a constructive hobby and negatively as a destructive distraction from all that nature necessitates for our present survival.

One might continue this discourse till many volumes had come and gone.  Not only is backgammon a nuanced template for pondering how risk and reward, action and reaction, manifest themselves in flesh and blood, so to say, but it also brings out both intensely competitive and remarkably collaborative potentialities.  In particular, chouettes combine these components of attack and parlay, of cooperation and throat-cutting, of individual and group thinking and negotiating strategies, in ways that almost perfectly parallel how actual and successful mediation takes place in combative and many-sided disputes.

The proposal for this article stated the case in arguably a useful fashion.  “A characteristic of our globe these days is this spread of human culture to every space that Earth’s land surface graces.  Moreover, wherever folks have stayed, they have also played.  Thus, a part of this cultural infiltration of people and their pastimes has been the rooting everywhere of certain games, one of which is ‘the game of kings and the king of games,’ backgammon.  From London to Tokyo, from Istanbul to Santiago, from Manhattan to Cape Town, travelers who know BG can find opponents who will at once willingly wile away time and gladly chance their luck in heads-up or group settings.”

For now, having barely skimmed the surface, with a tale to tell that entails thinking about the game, the time to move on is nigh.  Still, before encountering the characters in conflict in today’s story, we might point out a few additional contextual bits about this royal game for royal characters.

BACKGAMMON IN FICTION & FILM

Backgammon is decidedly not primarily an Anglo-American pastime, though the import of the doubling cube is definitely an American addition to the contest.  One need only visit Ankara or Athens or Cairo or Jerusalem to see the heartlands of the game, the name of which varies but often includes a variation of the Persian, “Shesh pesh,” for “Six-five” on the dice; Israeli terminology uses “shesh-besh,” Old Turkish for the same quantity.

“Istanbul panorama and skyline” by Ben Morlok – cc 2.0

Naturally, then, Turkey’s Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk includes references to the game in both his fiction and nonfiction.  What he makes clear is that the game has woven itself seamlessly into the fabric of Turkish life, playing as routine a part as family meals or conversations among neighbors about television or politics.

It contextualizes infidelity and slowly requited love in The Museum of Innocence.  It serves as the foundation for a lesson in memory as the main character’s father ponders tactics “in a tight spot,” in The New Life.  It appears repeatedly as a signpost of Istanbul’s and the nation’s mores in The Black Book and elsewhere.  In his account of Istanbul as a place, which he subtitles Memories of a City, he mentions it just once, to show that he has little of his fellow Turks’ passion for the game—he and his mates use the checkers for imaginary games of soccer that they play with marbles.

Surely, innumerable other writers and storytellers from the Levant and Southern Asia bring the ‘king of games’ into their yarns.  Via such characters and characterizations, it has traveled to the New World as well.  Jorge Amado’s Gabriella, Clove, and Cinnamon plays out a story’s thread in which the main character, Nacib, has traveled from Lebanon and brought backgammon to Brazil’s equivalent of the ‘wild West,’ where a coterie of gamblers and roustabouts play the game regularly, possibly even obsessively, in his pub.

BG contextualizes their competitive and friendly relations, at once an outlet for their flirtatiousness and their acquisitiveness.  It is a constant presence in the bard’s estimable tale of chance and will, longing and love, business and predation.

302px-Tieta_Cover1While his better-known meditation on love and human affairs, Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands, does not bring the ‘king of games’ explicitly to the fore, the deceased spouse, whose wagers and carousing are the stuff of legend, was a gambler extraordinaire in a milieu in which backgammon was a regular presence.  It also shows up in Amado’s other stories, such as Tieta: the Goat Girl and Tent of Miracles.

One might easily pursue backgammon’s cultural impact on every single Mediterranean culture, after which one could delineate the worldwide spread of the game from this creative cradle.  That will be labor for a later project, however, here and now our task an attempt to account for why a South Carolina Episcopalian became such a devotee of the skirmishes that are omnipresent on the board.

And that effort requires us to dig into England’s uptake of the ‘game of kings,’ which has for several centuries been a noteworthy phenomenon indeed.  In no less a central tome of contemporary mores and thinking than Vanity Fair itself does backgammon make the scene again and again and again.  Becky Sharp is a taskmistress over the board, as is Lady Jane Grey, who learned at her grandfather’s knee.

Vanity.Fair.ch1
Becky Sharp – Vanity Fair

One of Ms. Rebecca’s ‘admirers’ upbraids her about her avocation.  “He took Rebecca to task once or twice about the propriety of playing at backgammon with Sir Pitt, saying that it was a godless amusement, and that she would be much better engaged in reading…any work of a more serious nature; but Miss Sharp said her dear mother used often to play the same game…and so found an excuse for this and other worldly amusements.”

Moreover, Thackeray’s The Virginians also includes multiple references to the topic of today’s story.   Mr. Marshall Beatty’s ancestors might very well, as the characters in Thackeray’s novel did, have imported their love for and practice of the game from the British Isles many centuries ago.  Here is a passage from the narrative that makes that clear in ways that resonate powerfully in relation to the story that we are considering here.

A plantation owner who appreciated gospel singing differed decidedly from his predecessor, “the Colonel…for that worthy gentleman had a suspicion of all cassocks, and said that he would never have any controversy with a clergyman but upon backgammon.  Where money was wanted for charitable purposes no man was more ready, and the good, easy, hearty Virginia clergyman, who loved backgammon heartily, too, said that the worthy Colonel’s charity must cover his other shortcomings.”

While British pioneers in statistics and the numbering of the real, as Against the Gods: the Remarkable Story of Risk makes clear, were deconstructing the enumeration of permutation and other attributes of everyday probabilities from the habits of dice games, both the highest practitioners and the common herd of storytelling deployed backgammon in their sagas.  Jane Austen over and over portrays the game as a combination of tonic and social lubricant, in such works as Emma and Pride and Prejudice and more.

One scholar of Austen focuses on BG’s role in Chapter Eleven of Emma, for instance, where the reader finds this.  “Emma spared no exertions to maintain this happier flow of ideas, and hoped, by the help of backgammon, to get her father tolerably through the evening, and be attacked by no regrets but her own.  The backgammon-table was placed; but a visitor immediately afterwards walked in and made it unnecessary.”

Not only did the board and its routines show up in Austen’s fiction, but it was also at least fairly central in her life.  Several biographers have made this argument persuasively, if not dispositively, by referring to parallels between the game of kings in fact and fiction.

“Backgammon is just right for (Mr. Woodhouse), relying enough on chance to offer him an occasional opportunity of victory, especially if the other player is guileful enough to help him win.  No wonder it is also the game that Mr. Bennett plays with Mr. Collins(in Pride and PrejudiceI). …

The image of an almost eternal backgammon game with Mr. Woodhouse is all the more powerful because of Emma’s(and Jane’s) native love of intriguing play. …in which game playing is exciting enough to seem dangerous. …As ever, the game brings characters together precisely in order to divide them,” much as one might make of the matter in life itself, now or in the social activities of Austen herself.

Tales_serialAs close to a crowning glory among such interlocutors as one might imagine possible, Charles Dickens himself builds his works often enough around backgammon.  A mood of despair in A Tale of Two Cities emerges in this way.

“’I am quite glad you are at home; for these hurries and forebodings by which I have been surrounded all day long, have made me nervous without reason.  You are not going out, I hope?’

‘No; I am going to play backgammon with you, if you like,’ said the Doctor.

‘I don’t think I do like, if I may speak my mind.  I am not fit to be pitted against you tonight.  Is the tea-board still there Lucie?  I can’t see.’”

In Bleak House, Hard Times, Dombey & Sons, and many additional interludes, the masterful Sir Charles weaves BG into the story.  It stands for flirtation, for cupidity and other scheming, for the longing for order and the approval of the gods, and for many of the same elements of seeking a muse and amusement that characterize the pastime in the here and now.

One might turn to Fielding or Trollope or any number of lesser lights of the novel in English to make the case indisputably plain.  This battle of wits and charming hobby of all sorts of people has had a part both interesting and noteworthy in the lives that we’ve led and that we’re still leading in the world.

Nor has BG only appeared in print.  In fact, though we have barely scratched the surface here, the metaphorical battle—as diversion, pastime, and avocation, and occasionally as vocation, even profession—has come to the forefront repeatedly in movies.  Several films use the simple title, Backgammon, to set the stage for all of life’s dramas, from love plots to family matters to psychosocial thrillers.  Others include BG in the title as they unfold dramas of love and conflict.

James Bond plays the game with a cheater on whom he ‘turns the tables,’ so to say, in Octopussy.  In the wider culture, one can find multiple points at which backgammon appears as an important, or at least well-known, component of how things operate.  Perhaps one of the most clear-cut of these sorts of situations is in relation to Playboy’s long love affair with the game, which includes the publication of its very own Book of Backgammon.

To put this brief interlude under wraps, so to speak, readers will have a chance to see what the estimable empiricist David Hume has to offer about our ‘king of games and game of kings.’  His canonical A Treatise of Human Nature states the case like this.

“Where am I, or what?  From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? … I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras.  I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends.  And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”

The Beattie home
The Beattie home

A PRIVILEGED DIXIE-PIEDMONT LIFE & ITS DISINHERITANCE

To return to the main thread of our tale for today, which embodies some of the themes and nuances both literary and more generally cultural, another case of life’s imitation of art and vice versa, Marshall Beatty, if memory serves, was more than a few years older than the Spindoctor, whose retirement now draws nigh.  The year 1945 adheres to memories of conversations from an Aspen condo, over the course of many sessions in 1974-75.

Marshall’s family owned mills near Greeneville, South Carolina, in a section of the country where that position meant both significant wealth—one opponent of the Spindoctor’s had to quit our sessions during graduate school when he announced at the start of our final get-together, “I’m gonna have to quit because I’ve decided to marry a mill” who did not approve of gambling and had the promise of a lifetime sinecure to induce compliance—and stringent reaction in matters social and political.  According to interlocutors of Jimbo’s acquaintance, Norma Rae presented a comparatively tame picture of attitudes toward class difference and propriety in the land of spinning king cotton.

From this context of wealth and backwardness, the first set of memories that Marshall shared concerned his elder brother, whom his father described as “a fat lazy bastard” before packing him off to military school when Marshall was a young teenager.  From thence, his oldest sibling decamped to an asylum roughly two years later, where the first child of the Beatty scion died in 1971 or so, perhaps a suicide.

Marshall’s sister apparently conformed to the necessary strictures of bourgeois existence in South Carolina.  At least, Marshall never heard from her directly, and her husband had become general manager of the Beatty complex of mills in and around Greeneville and Spartanburg by the mid 1970’s.

mill south carolinaMarshall himself could have run a course that led to such a track as well.  He hadperformed well academically, in 1964 entering the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus with a scholar’s repute, albeit his tendency to prefer French and Comparative Religion to Math and Business no doubt seemed malapropos to daddy Beatty.

But such choices were not enough to cause a complete alienation of affections.  An eventuality of that sort required something like Veronica, whom Marshall took home for Thanksgiving in 1966, en route to his second semester of junior year at the Palmetto State’s flagship university.

The senior Sir Beatty needed no further information than her straightforward gaze and her childhood in a trailer park to know that she was an “opportunistic golddigger,” according to Marshall.  “He told me that I had exactly one month to get rid of, quote, that slut Veronica, unquote.”

Marshall was a lover and a fighter apparently.  Despite his training in gentle diction and obeisance, “I told him in no uncertain terms to go fuck himself,” steel in his drawl still nearly a decade after the fact.

He received papers from the family attorney within a week stating that he had a right to his clothes, personal effects, bedroom furniture, and the horse of his choosing from the family stables.  Other than that, he was on his own, and sister’s line would be the only ones to experience the family’s largesse.

Though this is dramatic enough to cause all manner of narrative potential, it would not likely in and of itself have thrown together two such oddly matched birds as he and the Spindoctor were together.  Marshall and Veronica both truly belonged in South Carolina, where a lawyer’s life or something more academic might have come about for this beautiful couple that put passion and its promise above fealty or lucre.

TheCulinaryGeek flickr
TheCulinaryGeek flickr

But something oddly grotesque, and weirdly hilarious, transpired at the end of Summer break before this pair’s senior year in Columbia.  Fine young animals that they were, they played competitive tennis regularly.  They would then lounge about Veronica’s apartment on days when neither of them had to work at their waiter-and-waitress positions, where they joined wit and decorum to rake in the tips, no doubt.

On the day in question, consumed by a powerful thirst after three sets, Marshall quaffed an entire quart of tea before he opened up the backgammon board and suggested a few games.  According to his recollection of the moment, the light sparkled and the dice dance before Veronica’s roommate began shrieking, hysterical and disconsolate, from the kitchen.

When Veronica managed to calm the young co-ed enough to get something from her, she sobbed, “Somebody drank all the Kool-Aid!!!”  Marshall says that he heard this as if from a distance, and that the full impact of what she then related struck him as both odd and obvious, somehow.

The ‘tea’ that he imbibed had been a concoction for a later late Summer orgy, laced with roughly sixty hits of LSD.  “I was sure that I would die,” he said, matter of factly.  “I was sure that I should have killed her, but I couldn’t focus.”

Veronica laughed when she spoke of this eight years subsequently.  “I ran out in the hallway after him, shouting, ‘Marshall, don’t go!’”  But he was a quick fellow and following a track from which deviation was not an option.

The Spindoctor has written at length elsewhere about this incident, one of those amazing congruences that couldn’t possibly have happened in spite of its all-too-tangible reality.  The upshot was that, two days later, after Veronica and a friend had camped on the campus quad and watched Marshall’s third floor window obsessively the entire time, remaining awake in shifts, the panes of this privileged single-senior’s-domicile exploded and, first, Marshall’s top-of-the-line speakers, and, thereafter, everything else in the room—that which fit on its own intact and all else chopped down to size—came pouring out to land on the quad before a gawking and amazed crowd that gathered to watch.

When campus cops and municipal police broke down the door, Marshall stood in the center of an absolutely bare space, naked except for the fire ax that he had so recently deployed on furniture and other things that would not exit the window as a single piece.  He was White, if tanned, and a Beatty to boot, or things might have ended much worse for him.

480px-Ruby_Slippers_LSD_Sheet

The authorities got a strait-jacket on him before he went ballistic, however, and he spent the next eight months at Babcock, the most mental ward of the State Hospital on Bull Street, near downtown Columbia.  An aunt wanted him transferred to a private facility, but Marshall was coherent within a week and wanted none of that.  He refused to open the dozen or so letters that came from his father, one of the reasons for his lengthy stay, given how “clear and Zen I got within a month.”

One result of this adventure, however, was that neither he nor Veronica finished their degrees.  She basically was with him every day of his ‘commitment,’ and they had left the South for good within twenty-four hours of his release.

They traveled throughout North America for a couple of years before they settled in Aspen, where Marshall got his real estate license and they became notorious as both lovebirds and gamblers.  More or less, this is where a Spindoctor entrance occurs.

A CHANCE SPINDOCTOR ENCOUNTER & AN INSTRUCTIONAL NEXUS

Marshall and Veronica ended up in the Roaring Fork Valley because they had Mormon_row_barn_grand_teton_national_parkpassed through in their sojourns, and they had both skied there prior to any formal family comeuppance for Marshall’s passion for his non-pedigreed lover.  The Spindoctor found himself in Aspen for reasons much more random and mundane.

Those rationale stemmed from his experience ‘off the leash and on the prowl’ at Harvard.  For several months, fueled by his National Merit Scholarship, he had ridden a wave of beginners luck in poker.

Then one night, the battles among the players of seven card stud and draw and their variations just didn’t gel, while five enthusiasts skirmished among themselves in a backgammon chouette, a variation of the contest that permits a theoretically unlimited number of gamblers to fight out their carnage on a single score sheet.  An inveterate practitioner of pattern recognition, the nineteen year old version of Spindoctor quickly noted that this was the game that graced the back of cheap paper checkerboards, with their imprecise dice and flimsy plastic checkers.

By contrast, the sturdy briefcase that contained the playing plane at Radcliffe gleamed with lustrous leather points, and a velour rolling surface made the glassy clatter of dice mimic a muted set of bass notes.  The twenty-one rolls of a pair of standard dice, in their thirty-six permutations, led to an ebb and flow of positional battlements that appeared almost unimaginably complex and martially delightful to the uninitiated youth who watched with fascination as the ‘captain’s’ and ‘box’s’ seats changed as a sitter won or lost in turn.

Each challenge that grew from the clunky starting position combined racing with capture and blockade, opportunism with the potential for much deeper conceptual strategies.  For whatever reasons of disposition or fate, this kingdom of dice, this arena of action’s simulacrum, grasped hold of a young Spindoctor’s psyche with a grip at once fierce and alluring.

In the event, he was playing, for much the same ‘stake’ that he still risks, within thirty minutes of first observing the tides of fortune that ruled the play on that day, as well as during all prior and subsequent matches.  Like Charles Darwin, the Spindoctor has always sensed an astoundingly efficient utility in the way that backgammon operates.  Yet this may be less Darwin’s observation that the contest served as a ‘tonic for the mind’ than a rationalization of Jimbo’s own fiendish delight, which sported sources both more random and less salubrious.

No matter what, in the ivied halls, essentially, his predilection for gaming had led his administrative overseers at South House in Radcliffe to recommend a hiatus in his studies.  He had an ‘in’ for a thespian’s opportunity in New York City, an unpaid twenty-five hour a week course of performance and practice that would have meant working fifty hours a week in Manhattan just in order to make ends meet.

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)
www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Such, to say the least, did not appeal to an already socially-democratically leaning Spindoctor as equitable or fair.  He set out on a trek to Los Angeles with twenty dollars in his pocket.  The great Peter Frisch himself set the just turned twenty-one year old Jimbo on the entrance ramp to I-80 across the Jersey line.

The young wanderer, through a truly incredible set of adventures—that involved an MK Ultra veteran’s profferal of a ride from the Iowa-Illinois border to Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where he met and roomed with an all-Army boxing champion before a new happenstantial boss’s diet of cocaine and hookers had caused a heart attack and the necessity of finding gainful employment elsewhere than the panic ridden town at the mouth of the Roaring Fork River—did himself end up working around Aspen as a bellhop, a job which he had already practiced while at Harvard for plus-or-minus twenty hours a week.  He had never heard of Aspen, let alone that it was a Winter sports and wild-orgy capital of the entire planet.

When an early-season broken leg ended any pretensions of claiming the title of ski-bum, a sport that he literally had only seen from afar anyway in televised Winter Olympics competitions, he began to sniff around for backgammon opportunities.  He had money, and he knew how to play the game.

The actual introduction of today’s two characters—a past version of the Spindoctor and a youthful but still elder Sir Beatty—took place through a different player, who had in his turn fleeced Marshall at poker.  “He was the better player, but I had more money—just like us at backgammon,” nodded Marshall’s poker nemesis.

He said this after I’d won several hundred dollars for the second of third time.  He had already announced that “our little lessons are through!”

Taking this information into account, I responded, friendly and intent at the same instant, “I’d love to meet him.”

“I’m sure you would.”  He smiled, wanly.  “He’s a charmer.”  So Lee set us up.

And indeed Marshall was charming, six foot two, slender and dapper, smile just so, eyebrows arched with the perfect blend of come-on and irony.  Veronica, his mate, was dazzling, a whisper of exotic perfume and huge doses of je ne sais quoi.

Their condo, comfy but not too commodious, overlooked run number something or other, just off of Aspen’s slopes, where they both pretty definitely toned themselves for the six months that had just begun, plus or minus November 10, 1974.  Marshall’s ‘day job,’ inasmuch as he ever had one, entailed selling units such as this to young or aging ski addicts; “Everybody who’s anybody’s gonna want a little hideaway in Aspen,” Veronica purred, as Marshall size up that I was not one of the set to which his love was referring.

So we played backgammon.  And I was the better of the pair, at checker play by a fair margin and at the handling of the cube by a huge differential.

But the game is not chess, or go.  My handsome opponent won at least his fair share of games, though my score inched up through the teens and the twenties and the thirties.  We were paying for five dollars a point: “something meaningful,” Marshall had suggested when the matter arose at the outset.

vinoWine and snacks graced the first five or six hours of our tete-a-tete.  The first joint wafted its Panama Red aroma around midnight, just after he’d spun a platter from the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and a Spindoctor chortle at the song had indicated that pot would meet with approval.

“Now, if you’re up for it,” Marshall announced, offhandedly, setting down his dice cup, before pausing with an implication of naughty, naughty.  We were in the midst of a complicated game, the sort that the Spindoctor favors.  An inquisitive look invited the rest of the sentence.  “We can have a little treat.”

Hunter Thompson’s work had not yet graced a Spindoctor nightstand, nor was his political campaign for mayor yet on the radar of the naïve and uninitiated.  But everyone new that the ‘treat-du-jour’ in Pitkin County, Colorado was cocaine that seemingly entered the region daily on any number of private jets that screamed into the rarefied airspace here from all over the world.

“Ooooh, he’s a virgin!” Veronica giggled at my admission that this would be the first time that I’d done a line.

“Well then,” Marshall pronounced quietly, with a wicked little smile, “we’ll have to be gentle with him.”  We all laughed.

Veronica said something in what sounded like spot-on, unaccented French, and laughed at Marshall’s coloring a bit.  His retort, also in nearly perfect French, but with a hint of South Carolina up country, turned her giggle into a thoughtful smile.  “Well, we’ll just have to see.”

Four or five lines went up the virgin nose, and callow fingers coated callow gums with the dregs that the rolled hundred dollar straw left behind on the mirror.  Veronica and Marshall partook in equal measure, polite hosts that they were.

And the early morning, well past three, proceeded to dawn, at which juncture Marshall’s arrears amounted to forty-two points, down from over sixty an hour earlier.  The final game of the night, to those unfamiliar with the game, would be difficult to convey in all its perfection and horror.

Marshall had affirmed early his propensity for accepting doubled stakes whenever he held the ace point, even if other assets or possibilities were absent, a rarity among those who didn’t want to lose their asses in the tallying of the score.  This game ended up as a contest between a Spindoctor prime, which absolutely prohibited escape, and half-a-dozen Beatty checkers on the one point.

More to the point of imagining Marshall’s winning chances, not horrible if he held a strong inner board to contain any of Jimbo’s unluckily captured last-minute checkers, the Beatty home board had collapsed onto his one, two, and three points, which meant that his hopes of victory were miniscule at best, while his potential to lose a double or triple game were substantial.

The cube, on Jimbo’s side of the board, meaning that he alone could use it next, Backgammon_DoublingCubestood at the somewhat lofty height of thirty-two, which on its face made this game worth a hundred sixty dollars, with opportunities to double or even triple than under circumstances of Jimbo’s removing his checkers prior to Marshall’s taking anyone off the board.  And this phase of the game had begun, with all the probabilities decidedly in the Spindoctor direction.

For reasons that concern the disadvantages of having an odd number of checkers remaining, in spite of his near-guarantee of winning, and high likelihood of gaining some multiple of the cube value, Jimbo elected to redouble to sixty-four.  He was busy tallying that the expected seventy-four points would yield an hourly rate for the twelve hour session of nearly thirty dollars an hour, not bad wages for a bell hop whose room was free, up the mountain at Snowmass.

The only problem with these computations was that Marshall had snatched up the proposition without expression, though he did grin when Jimbo jumped at the sixty-four cube that nestled opposite him across the backgammon board.  “It’s your roll,” Marshall noted levelly.

Again, the details here will mean little to non-backgammon players.  The upshot was that the Spindoctor reached a position in which—against an absolutely perfect defensive position, which Marshall had long since buried on his lower points—his equity would be 95%; the actual series of rolls was so unbelievable that this situation remains the number one example of hideous impossibility become possible in the course of half a million games or more of the Game of Kings, what the brilliant analyst, Barclay Cooke, called “the cruelest game.”

Anyhow, when Marshall turned the infinitely expandable doubling device to 128, Jimbo dropped and paid off a hundred and ten dollars—the twenty-two point difference between his plus-forty-two and the value of the dropped cube—before exiting into a light snowfall in the Aspen morning, just shy of seven o’clock and dawn.

In the course of the wild madness of that last game, Jimbo had wondered if he would receive payment even if he won.  He considered the possibility that this was a clever cheater—after all, Marshall had admitted his prowess as a juggler and a magician early in the evening, after Veronica—indiscreetly, perhaps, given the dour look that her lover had shot in her direction at that point—had suggested that he provide a display of his proficiency with “your new wooden balls, sweetie!”

Whatever the true situation may have been, the Spindoctor had sworn never to seek this fellow out again.  He assumed that Marshall would not call.  Yet he did, quite soon in fact.

“I know I was unbelievably luck that last game,” he drawled over the phone.  When I said nothing, he continued, “and I’m sure that over time you’ll make a tidy profit playing against the likes of me.”

Again I had nothing to offer in reply.  “But I’d really like to learn to be a better player.”

So for eight months or so, till the end of July, this unlikely duo played backgammon four or five times a month.  And indeed, for such a one as the Spindoctor, the five thousand dollars or so that he banked was well worth the time, though toward the end, Mr. Beatty was a massively more formidable foe than he had been at the beginning, and Jimbo’s good luck was the only reason that he won till he left.

He did depart the Front Range, to return to college and actually study history for his final year at Harvard.  He rarely thought of Marshall Beatty, except in recalling the “bad beat” of the one improbable game.  Till much later, he never heard a thing about what he has since learned.

HIGH-STAKES, HIGH-LIVING HIJINKS & THE WAGES OF SIN

When the campus in Cambridge permitted a Spindoctor’s return, Marshall was ready to feed on hapless aficionados of the ‘cruelest game’ who had the temerity to gamble above their heads.  According to more or less reliable accounts, he cut such a deep swath through the caches of cash among such players that he soon found himself only able to find action for significantly higher stakes.

us backgammonAnd that presented various conundrums.  Having made himself mostly unwelcome among the folks who willingly wagered modest but potentially costly sums—stakes ranging from five to ten dollars a point, more or less—he confronted a landscape that began with playing for ‘quarters,’ or twenty-five dollars a point, and ranged upward from there to games that involved initial bets of a hundred dollars a game or so.

Not that the potential losses were unmanageable, on the contrary despite the hideous fallout in Aspen’s low-end real estate market in the realm of oil price shocks and stagflationary interest rates, Marshall was far from destitute.  He could gamely gamble for such quantities of cash—on a really bad night losing a few thousand dollars or so—without risking life and limb, or his and Veronica’s next meals or mortgage payments.  And he kept primarily winning; he was a scrapper, a tactical wizard, and relentless with the cube, even if his races still tended toward rudimentary play—at once too conservative and too optimistic.

However, precisely for these larger and yet still middling amounts, the level of skill was the highest, the competition most intense, the likelihood of encountering some clever shark who could plunder one’s resources the greatest.  Nonetheless, Marshall delved into this marketplace and made money, albeit not at the rate that would accommodate the style of life that he wanted to accustom himself to.

Throughout North America, he plied what for most players was at best a slightly profitable hobby into a trade.  While the exact rationale for moving further afield is beyond a Spindoctor’s ken, a reasonable guess is that travel and a slower rate of winning meant that his capital pool—a key component of every successful gambler’s labors—was constantly at risk.

At any event, in the Summer of 1984, despite interest rates and general economic strains that made the timing suspect, Vernonic and Marshall found a friend who was in the powder-trade, in which a market niche adjacent to the ski slopes—where a very different powdery substance prevailed—was always advantageous, and who, moreover, wanted a place of his own in Colorado.  A cash deal resulted, and more or less a hundred grand further padded the Beatty pot.

Immediately thereafter, he and Veronica made a grand tour of Europe and the good_evening_istanbul_by_kayshgk-d4uwks9Mediterranean—Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf States, among others—where he found all the action that he wanted and then some.  He never had a losing streak longer than a week; and he met, for the first time, some of the stratospheric high rollers whose monied roots dipped into Gulf oil and geopolitical royalties that promised unlimited funds to pay.

Apparently, the allure of playing for such an ante proved irresistible.  At five hundred or a thousand dollars per point, making twenty points per week—and his ‘profit target’ was more like fifty points every seven days—meant that increasing the personal investment fund that was his aggregate cash position was again attainable.

And the paradox of carrying his suave politesse among such contenders was that for the most part they were not only less capable players than he was but also were a far sight worse than the typical opponent for fifty dollars a point in the United States.  Thus, though the margin of safety had to be somewhere between nonexistent and as thin as a strand of hair, Mr. Beatty began to disport way above his head.

He fit in with the social set, no doubt of that.  Quiet smile and opaque equability resplendent under all circumstances, the Spindoctor can imagine the conversational turn when he first broached the subject of stakes in such a context.  “We should play,” he would intone, a smile tickling his lips, his eyes wide behind his tinted glasses, “for something meaningful.”  He would pause to gauge the effect of his words.

“Don’t you think?” he would conclude.  This is what he had said to the Spindoctor in 1974.  Only instead of the ‘nickels and dimes’ option that he pondered in the previous decade, a much bigger pie would be in play.

Facing him, the handsome, bejeweled, slickly attired fellow, as likely as not an actual Prince of one sort or another, would have nodded.  “So would you prefer five hundred or a thousand?”

money bills economyAnd whatever Marshall initially suggested, the follow-up was telling too.  “Pounds or dollars?  You’re American, right?  From the Southern States, if I’m not mistaken.”

And Marshall would smile broadly at the identification of his accent, even were he using his serviceable French, a lilting drawl so much less noticeable than when he left Greeneville with a curse from his father that followed his exit.  He’d shrug and tilt his head at the suggestion that he was a hick.  And then he would acknowledge that dollars would be dandy.  And for a month, he won a little and lost a little and realized that at this level, the money was affecting his killer cool and capacity to face down brutal redoubles and such.

In such a situation, a little known but ironclad rule of this sort of ongoing battle would inevitably have come into play.  The classic text, Chance, Luck, & Statistics, states it as follows: “If two players sit down to an equitable game of chance, the stakes being the same on each round, and if the first has ten times the available capital of the second, then the odds are 10 to 1 that the second player will be ruined before the first.”

Moreover, more unfortunately still from the point of view of the estimable backgammon contender at the center of this story, this deficiency rises exponentially as one faces more and more opponents similarly situated, i.e., with an advantage in terms of capitalization.  While Marshall had absolutely never read Horace Levinson’s introductory statistical monograph, he with equal certainty understood the issue intuitively.  When he first met the Spindoctor, he had been recovering from a period of ruin, against an at least somewhat inferior poker player who had immeasurably more money than Marshall did.

Nice Gilbert Bochenek
Nice Gilbert Bochenek

In Southern Europe, where Marshall set down roots to run his operation, he was playing again against lesser opponents, in terms of their capacities on a game-by-game, or even a session-by-session, basis.  But these scions of aristocratic and plutocratic wealth much more heavily dwarfed Marshall’s paltry few hundred thousand dollars in seed funding than a mere ten-to-one edge; as well, as noted, a coterie of these hungry young bettors were soon flitting around the parlors and cafes where Marshall would meet his foes, whom he hoped, consistently, to transform into his marks.

In such a situation, according to Levinson, the hapless challenger in Marshall’s position “is in effect playing a single game against an adversary who is immensely rich, and if he continues, his ruin becomes certain.”  This is what a youthful Mr. Beatty had encountered in an Aspen poker game already and what he sensed as the looming possibility in and around the villas where he played in Monte Carlo and the environs thereabouts.

What happened next is uncertain.  Quite likely, playing tight and setting strict loss-limits for a time, Marshall made some money; he was the superior player in every chouette or head-on-head session that he entered.

But as noted above, the Spindoctor’s friend back in Pitkin County, sixty-five hundred feet above sea level, had on different occasions acknowledged his honed abilities as a magician.  Also as pointed out previously, in the hideous session that came down to a huge game that Marshall won that November six o’clock morning in 1974, the Spindoctor had wondered whether fancy handed dice manipulation might have been a factor in the million-to-one adverse result.

In any event, the deployment of such legerdemain became at least an occasional weapon in Marshall’s arsenal.  And his rate of winning rose apace.  He was, within six months or so, well on his way to a million dollars ahead of where he had found himself when he and Veronica first rented some rooms and began their enterprise in Southern France.

If he had spent his victory money conservatively, no doubt, the totals would more likely have exceeded two million dollars or more ‘in the black.’  But he loved lavishing gifts on Veronica more or less equally as much as she loved his lavishing ways.

He swore that he would forego further fraudulence as soon as he had banked a million dollars, a fund a thousand times the maximum single point loss that he could experience.  Whether such a turning over a new leaf would have happened is anybody’s guess.

While he was minding his interests and scamming his increasingly discomfited

rivals, they no doubt were checking up on him.  Whether or not they discovered his having lost his inheritance, they certainly came to know that the reason that they didn’t play at Marshall’s home was that he had “cheap lodgings,” his generosity toward Veronica in the nature of clothes and jewels and other personal accoutrements rather than in terms of expensive rent.

Furthermore, these at least generally sophisticated men of business and the world, to a man ‘to the manor born,’ knew either intuitively or empirically the edge that they should have had as a consequence of their favorable capital position.  And they would have noticed Marshall’s shift in mien, to an almost sublimely confident belief in his victory on any given day.  Something had to explain that change, and the elucidation was clearly not a rich uncle’s generosity.

Perhaps more relevant still, having grown up with backgammon in their nursery schools, they would also have discerned the slight uptick in Marshall’s double-sixes and other long-odds victories.  It needn’t have been constant or blatant to be observable.  Once more, an explanation was necessary.

The conclusion, under those circumstances, would have turned a whisper into a chorus.  “He must be cheating.”

And the clock would have begun to tick on Mr. Beatty’s life expectancy.  Perhaps he bought Veronica, unannounced, a big insurance policy.  He almost certainly would have detected his foes’ suspicions, his psyche’s fine-tuning to such things at an almost preternatural level after the Kool-Aid incident in Columbia twenty years prior.

But his hands were indeed ‘faster than any eye,’ apparently, because no one could catch him in the act of manipulating a die in his favor.  “What can we do?” the frustrated accusers clearly must have asked.

And the answer, to men who regularly wagered a million dollars a year on casino games, would eventually have been palpable.  No one’s hands, after all, could be faster than a camera, an ‘eye-in-the-sky,’ so to speak.

When one day the scene of a chouette shifted to a private room, perhaps at Monte Carlo itself, Marshall would have almost definitely been especially cautious.  If the venue had continued in such environs, however, perhaps he allowed himself a single coup per session.

In any case, whenever that slip had transpired, those arrayed against him would have had irrefutable evidence that a pattern of behavior was behind their affable and oh-so-courteous adversary’s long string of victories.  And once these men had established this fact, which they knew would at some point become common knowledge among future competitors, only one possible end result was available.

Once again, as in the case of the Wicked Witch, the ‘only question was how to accomplish’ the necessary culmination.  And the final countdown to Marshall’s ultimate play had begun.

“Col de Braus-small” by Ericd cc 3.0

A Gambol Too Far, a Gamble Too High

Crushed and broken at the bottom of a thousand foot drop, more or less instantly dead of shock and trauma, consciousness obliterated: did the experience contain a moment of recognition?  Could it possibly have been truly accidental?

Such questions as these are unanswerable in terms of empirical certainty, while they are silly in terms of common sense probabilities.  Almost certainly, Marshall had a stunned sense that he had become a victim, even that his victimization was both unavoidable and his own doing; equally so, the eventuality was no more likely inadvertent than a political coup, when an observer must doubt that such a convenient outcome for money simply cannot rationally and probably be a random event.

Well might someone who encounters this story ponder its deeper parameters, its life lessons, its wider social significance or implicit contextual consequences.  For example, with enough information about the ongoing love connection between Marshall and Veronica, with further evidence about the Beatty family and its place in mill town South Carolina, with greater depth of insight about the expectations that Marshall had for manifesting his own development and personality, a chronicler could easily express many additional layers of meaning here.

As matters stand, though, a few points have adequate salience to state confidently.  Most obviously, to rob the rich and get away with one’s skin, one had best make a score and accomplish an exit without detection: repeated slicing away at the sausage (as the Chilean aphorism states the case, “robarse el salchichón”) of loot that underlies aristocratic wealth, no matter how clever or artful, will inevitably result in eventual exposure, with disastrous outcomes at best.

One might go on in this vein of balancing risk and gain.  Though the subject matter involved in this exercise may ultimately merit only a superficial rating, one can with some precision nevertheless express equities and prospects that accompany actions of a certain predatory cast that one conducts against equally rapacious rivals.  No matter the short-term benefits that attend this type of ledger, the bottom line entry will probably read, “Rest in Peace.”

At a more psychological or psychosocial level, thematic elements are also possible to imagine, despite the limitations on the data that are available for this telling.  For instance, one can certainly posit that, as Marshall’s little MG arced downward toward rocks hundreds of feet below, his consciousness quite plausibly approximated a winsome wish to have been happier with less cash flow, so that he might have reveled once more in Veronica’s embrace.

Even if he clung, till the final pounding smash-up, to the belief that he simply had to provide a definite well-heeled lifestyle to keep Veronica’s loyalty and love, one can clearly conjecture that, before the physical decimation took place, he might have wondered if such choices were not only worth the cost but also truly necessary.  The consciousness that complements such a final scene, almost by definition, cannot be readily knowable: no one can have come back to tell onlookers what it was like.

xM56RPerhaps a merely animal response is the final experience of life as regular breath and routine ideation.  In such a view, whatever mixture of terror and acceptance, of resignation and horror, that one feels is no more profound than an expletive, like “Oh shit!” or an interjection, like “Ouch!”

For purposes of providing some semblance of closure for a scribe and his readers alike, maybe something like the following will let us exit with a measure of equanimity and aplomb.  First, while playing at life as if it were a game is common enough, and as defensible as otherwise, the finishing touches bleed and hurt more than any loss on the board will ever do.

Second, and most relevant in terms of analyzing the societal implications of this tale, this occurrence really did occur, and if one wants to make sense of the world, this particular happenstance must be part of the skein that one ends up creating to reveal the nature of life as we lead it.  This brilliant man’s hurtling to his doom is a piece in the contemporary mosaic, a metaphor for all our fates, a nexus of contemplation and instruction to consider for everyone sentient enough to stare wide-eyed at the abyss.

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