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Archive for November, 2017

“Of all these nineteenth-century writers there is none, in the noblest sense, more democratic than Walter Scott. As this may be disputed, and as it is relevant, I will expand the remark. There are two rooted spiritual realities out of which grow all kinds of democratic conception or sentiment of human equality. There are two things in which all men are manifestly and unmistakably equal. They are not equally clever or equally muscular or equally fat, as the sages of the modern reaction (with piercing insight) perceive. But this is a spiritual certainty, that all men are tragic. And this, again, is an equally sublime spiritual certainty, that all men are comic. No special and private sorrow can be so dreadful as the fact of having to die. And no freak or deformity can be so funny as the mere fact of having two legs. Every man is important if he loses his life; and every man is funny if he loses his hat, and has to run after it. And the universal test everywhere of whether a thing is popular, of the people, is whether it employs vigorously these extremes of the tragic and the comic. Shelley, for instance, was an aristocrat, if ever there was one in this world. He was a Republican, but he was not a democrat: in his poetry there is every perfect quality except this pungent and popular stab. For the tragic and the comic you must go, say, to Burns, a poor man. And all over the world, the folk literature, the popular literature, is the same. It consists of very dignified sorrow and very undignified fun. Its sad tales are of broken hearts; its happy tales are of broken heads.

These, I say, are two roots of democratic reality. But they have in more civilised literature, a more civilised embodiment of form. In literature such as that of the nineteenth century the two elements appear somewhat thus. Tragedy becomes a profound sense of human dignity. The other and jollier element becomes a delighted sense of human variety. The first supports equality by saying that all men are equally sublime. The second supports equality by observing that all men are equally interesting.

In this democratic aspect of the interest and variety of all men, there is, of course, no democrat so great as Dickens. But in the other matter, in the idea of the dignity of all men, I repeat that there is no democrat so great as Scott. This fact, which is the moral and enduring magnificence of Scott, has been astonishingly overlooked. His rich and dramatic effects are gained in almost every case by some grotesque or beggarly figure rising into a human pride and rhetoric. The common man, in the sense of the paltry man, becomes the common man in the sense of the universal man. He declares his humanity. For the meanest of all the modernities has been the notion that the heroic is an oddity or variation, and that the things that unite us are merely flat or foul. The common things are terrible and startling, death, for instance, and first love: the things that are common are the things that are not commonplace. Into such high and central passions the comic Scott character will suddenly rise. Remember the firm and almost stately answer of the preposterous Nicol Jarvie when Helen Macgregor seeks to browbeat him into condoning lawlessness and breaking his bourgeois decency. That speech is a great monument of the middle class. Molière made M. Jourdain talk prose; but Scott made him talk poetry. Think of the rising and rousing voice of the dull and gluttonous Athelstane when he answers and overwhelms De Bracy. Think of the proud appeal of the old beggar in the Antiquary when he rebukes the duellists. Scott was fond of describing kings in disguise. But all his characters are kings in disguise. He was, with all his errors, profoundly possessed with the old religious conception, the only possible democratic basis, the idea that man himself is a king in disguise.”

– G. K. Chesterton, “CHAPTER X: THE GREAT DICKENS CHARACTERS,” 

Charles Dickens; a critical study. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1906. pp. 246-251.

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“Among Ourselves: What Happens to Juvenile Delinquents,” The Globe and Mail. November 29, 1939. Page 09.

“This question has formed the subject of a follow-up study of 161 boys referred to the Big Brother Movement by the Toronto Juvenile Court, and has been prepared by V. Lorne Stewart, Secretary of the Older Boys’ Department, and Kenneth H. Rogers, General Secretary of the Big Brother Movement.

The cases came to the Big Brothers in 1932, and after a period of supervision were allowed on their own. Then toward the end of 1938, they were again located and interviewed. ‘Some,’ says the leaflet on the subject that has come to our hand, ‘had become fine, upright, successful young business men. Some had married, and had become the fathers of small families. Others had grown bitter and hopeless in their continued unemployment. Others had gone the hard, sterile way of jail, reformatory, or penitentiary. Comparative figures give a more accurate picture of the situation.

How They Turned Out:
‘Based upon the objective judgements of a ‘group of three’ – a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker – the boys were classified according to three groups, as follows: 115 or 71.5% were rated ‘Successes’; 25 or 5.5% ‘Partial Successes,’ and 21 or 13.0% ‘Failures.’ Boys classed as successes included those who had no prolonged juvenile court record after 1932, had no adult court record, tried to get work, displayed industry and ambition, tried to continue their studies, and who had participated in group activities.’

The factors concerned in the success or failure of these boys, the investigators list under: harmonious homes; the districts from which the boys came, and housing conditions there; the class of companions; police court experiences; education, and supervision.

Four Fundamental Factors:
The study of the ‘failure’ group led to the conviction that ‘four factors are very fundamental – especially psychology – in the causation of crime: (a) Overindulgence, overprotection, and ‘spoiling’ by the home, i.e. lack of independence of thought and action, and lack of the idea of self-reliance; (b) inability to ‘get along’ freely and naturally when playing, working and living with otrhers – a psychological factor underlying these expressions; © idleness; (d) home ‘atmosphere.’ This refers to those tensions that are natural in a home in which there is marital discord, an unsatisfactory relationship between parents and children, low moral standards, or overcrowding.’”

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“In contemplating the many reverberations of the patterns set up by sexual harassment, it is hard to keep in mind all the consequences. That women are forced to accept the image of themselves as fair game in any public space – even if for the least serious of attacks, say, whistling from across the street – maintains and reinforces women’s sense of belonging at home in the family, and hence of the most basic sexual division of labor, one of the biggest sources of sexual inequality

The attitudes that produce sexual harassment also maintain a powerful bonding among men which not only weakens any existing class consciousness, but is one of the major obstacles to its development. I might add that this is the hopeful view; the more skeptical one is that the historically developed notion of class consciousness that we have inherited is based so fundamentally on male bonding, on fraternity, that it cannot be transformed into a comradeship including women without changing the image of comradeship itself.

Thus, from a socialist perspective as well as from a feminist one, no general issue is more important than sexual harassment. To challenge it, to make it unacceptable, is to attack one of the major barriers to unity among people who have the possibility of bringing about radical social change. To challenge it is also to challenge one of the aspects of the male ego and the male-dominated culture that feminists so dislike – the ego and the culture that depend on the subordination of others.

The very difficulty of defining sexual harassment specifically should be an asset, for it cannot be combatted effectively in a mechanical, legalistic, or superficial way. Teaching men to quit harassing women cannot be done by rote. It requires enjoining them to try to see the world from a woman’s perspective: it requires developing the faculty of empathy that is so atrophied in many people; it requires challenging all those patterns of bonding which block the possibility of understanding a different point of view.

I do not consider sexual harassment as a gender-neutral phenomenon which women do to men as often as men to women. I would hardly deny that women can use sex in an harassing way; far from it. Sex is one of the few weapons women may have. But it is absurd on the face of it to suggest that the sexual harassment of men by women or of women by women is a social problem, any more than rape by women. For better or worse, women’s sexuality in our culture, whether heterosexual or lesbian, is not typically aggressive. Furthermore, acts of sex or sexual flirtation cannot be abstracted from the overall context of male supremacy which, with few exceptions, deprives women of coercive powers. These basic facts can be obscured when the struggle against sexual harassment becomes disconnected from a women’s movement, as has now happened to some extent. Thus we see polls which show men to be harassed as often as women!

This brings us to the second general topic, the changes created by the victory we have won in making sexual harassment illegal. Perhaps the most important characteristic of this victory is its fragility. In this period of strong anti-feminism it does not take much imagination to figure out how sexual harassment could be licensed again, and the legal and social weapons we now have against it taken from us. Only constant vigilance and militance on this issue can maintain these weapons for us.

Furthermore, as feminists we face a particular problem in how to use the weapons we have because of the definitional problems. There is a big area of overlap between sexism and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is part of sexism; to detach it from that context would be to miss its importance. Yet we have an interest in defining sexual harassment specifically so that we can use the legal and moral weapons we have gained. If we insist on total subjectivity in the definition of the “crime” – that is, that whatever makes a woman feel harassed is harassment – then we will sacrifice all access to legal weapons. Perhaps someday we will be strong enough as a movement to make sexism itself a crime; but we are not that strong yet and “merely” pressuring sexual harassment out of existence would be most welcome.

We have yet another interest in being specific about sexual harassment: because we women are changing, are deciding not to accept treatment that we previously regarded as normal, many men are genuinely confused. Indeed, many men are defensive and angry; many conceive of the pressure against sexual harassment as a rejection of their very personalities, and lack confidence in their ability to find other sources of identity. This does give us the responsibility to examine what it is that we find harassing, at least enough to be able to explain it to others. It is not our fault, of course, if men are thick-skinned about this, and our explanatory attempts may often, perhaps usually, fail, because men benefit from harassing women, and thus have an interest in not understanding. Still, our only hope after all is that the majority can be forced to change, so that a new norm can be developed, a new pattern of male-female public relations that allows women more space to define and initiate the sexual content of encounters. There is no substitute for patient, as well as impatient but repeated, explanation.” 

– Linda Gordon, “The Politics of Sexual Harassment.” Viewpoint Magazine, November 29, 2017, originally appeared in print in Radical America, in a 1981 special issue on sexual harassment.

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Unposted postcard from Willow Springs, Wyoming, c. 1914. A vacation and fishing spot, but also a major archaeological site for Late High Plains Archaic material.

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“Listen for a moment to me! Consider what you are. Consider what we are. Consider what a man is before you marvel at his ineptitudes of will. Face the accepted facts. Here is a creature not ten thousand generations from the ape, his ancestor. Not ten thousand. And that ape again, not a score of thousands from the monkey, his forebear. A man’s body, his bodily powers, are just the body and powers of an ape, a little improved, a little adapted to novel needs. That brings me to my point. CAN HIS MIND AND WILL BE ANYTHING BETTER? For a few generations, a few hundreds at most, knowledge and wide thought have flared out on the darknesses of life…. But the substance of man is ape still. He may carry a light in his brain, but his instincts move in the darkness. Out of that darkness he draws his motives.”

“Or fails to draw them,” said Sir Richmond.

“Or fails…. And that is where these new methods of treatment come in. We explore that failure. Together. What the psychoanalyst does-and I will confess that I owe much to the psychoanalyst—what he does is to direct thwarted, disappointed and perplexed people to the realities of their own nature. Which they have been accustomed to ignore and forget. They come to us with high ambitions or lovely illusions about themselves, torn, shredded, spoilt. They are morally denuded. Dreams they hate pursue them; abhorrent desires draw them; they are the prey of irresistible yet uncongenial impulses; they succumb to black despairs. The first thing we ask them is this: ‘What else could you expect?’”

“What else could I expect?” Sir Richmond repeated, looking down on him. “H’m!”

“The wonder is not that you are sluggish, reluctantly unselfish, inattentive, spasmodic. The wonder is that you are ever anything else…. Do you realize that a few million generations ago, everything that stirs in us, everything that exalts human life, self-devotions, heroisms, the utmost triumphs of art, the love—for love it is—that makes you and me care indeed for the fate and welfare of all this round world, was latent in the body of some little lurking beast that crawled and hid among the branches of vanished and forgotten Mesozoic trees? A petty egg-laying, bristle-covered beast it was, with no more of the rudiments of a soul than bare hunger, weak lust and fear…. People always seem to regard that as a curious fact of no practical importance. It isn’t: it’s a vital fact of the utmost practical importance. That is what you are made of. Why should you expect—because a war and a revolution have shocked you—that you should suddenly be able to reach up and touch the sky?”

“H’m!” said Sir Richmond. “Have I been touching the sky!”

“You are trying to play the part of an honest rich man.”

“I don’t care to see the whole system go smash.”

“Exactly,” said the doctor, before he could prevent himself.

“But is it any good to tell a man that the job he is attempting is above him—that he is just a hairy reptile twice removed—and all that sort of thing?”

“Well, it saves him from hoping too much and being too greatly disappointed. It recalls him to the proportions of the job. He gets something done by not attempting everything. … And it clears him up. We get him to look into himself, to see directly and in measurable terms what it is that puts him wrong and holds him back. He’s no longer vaguely incapacitated. He knows.”

“That’s diagnosis. That’s not treatment.”

“Treatment by diagnosis. To analyze a mental knot is to untie it.”

“You propose that I shall spend my time, until the Commission meets, in thinking about myself. I wanted to forget myself.”

“Like a man who tries to forget that his petrol is running short and a cylinder missing fire…. No. Come back to the question of what you are,” said the doctor. “A creature of the darkness with new lights. Lit and half-blinded by science and the possibilities of controlling the world that it opens out. In that light your will is all for service; you care more for mankind than for yourself. You begin to understand something of the self beyond your self. But it is a partial and a shaded light as yet; a little area about you it makes clear, the rest is still the old darkness—of millions of intense and narrow animal generations…. You are like someone who awakens out of an immemorial sleep to find himself in a vast chamber, in a great and ancient house, a great and ancient house high amidst frozen and lifeless mountains—in a sunless universe. You are not alone in it. You are not lord of all you survey. Your leadership is disputed. The darkness even of the room you are in is full of ancient and discarded but quite unsubjugated powers and purposes…. They thrust ambiguous limbs and claws suddenly out of the darkness into the light of your attention. They snatch things out of your hand, they trip your feet and jog your elbow. They crowd and cluster behind you. Wherever your shadow falls, they creep right up to you, creep upon you and struggle to take possession of you. The souls of apes, monkeys, reptiles and creeping things haunt the passages and attics and cellars of this living house in which your consciousness has awakened….””

– H. G. Wells, The Secret Places of the Heart. The Macmillan Company, 1922. 1.4. 

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“Poor-Box Robber Is Caught In N.Y.,” Toronto Globe. November 27, 1918. Page 03.

Toronto Youth Confesses When Arrested That He Had Made Atttempt

(Special Despatch to The Globe.)
New York, Nov. 26. – Samuel Gross, nineteen years old, of Toronto, who carried a Canadian registration card, but not permit to rob the poor boxes of New York city, was frustrated this afternoon through the clever and courageous work of Miss Adele Eggers of 1,847 Harrison Avenue.

Miss Eggers, with her mother, was out for her first airing following a serious illness and had stopped at a bakery on Washington Heights to make a purchase. She was standing at the counter, waiting for her mother to make a selection, when, she told a detective later, she espied in the mirror behind the counter Gross trying to loosen the contribution box for the blind from the wall near the door.

Miss Eggers, weak though she was, pounced upon Gross, who had succeeded in unfastening the box and was starting for the door with it concealed beneath his overcoat which he carried on his arm.

His First Attempt.
Despite her game efforts, Miss Eggers was unable to hold on to Gross, who wrenched himself free and in doing so hurried the girl and the contribution box to the tiled floor of the store. A chase of five blocks up St. Nicholas avenue ensued, and this meanest of thieves was overtaken through the sprinting ability of Traffic Patrolman Henry Stake, who outdistanced the quickly gathering crowded by several hundred yards.

Questioned by detectives, Gross denied he was a slacker from Canadian military service and declares this was his first attempt to pilfer poor boxes. He said he had been working in restaurants and ‘bumming it’ during the four months he has been here from Toronto, sleeping when he had ‘the price’ at the Mills Hotel at 36th street and 7th avenue.

There was between $5 and $6 in the shattered box when the contents were counted later.

Mrs. Eggers is apprehensive lest her daughter’s experience cause a relapse in the girl’s condition.

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“There’s another military phrase: “in harm’s way.” That’s what everybody assumes going to war means – putting yourself in danger. But the truth is that for most soldiers war is no more inherently dangerous than any other line of work. Modern warfare has grown so complicated and requires such immense movements of men and materiel over so vast an expanse of territory that an ever-increasing proportion of every army is given over to supply, tactical support, and logistics. Only about one in five of the soldiers who took part in World War II was in a combat unit (by the time of Vietnam the ratio in the American armed forces was down to around one in seven). The rest were construction workers, accountants, drivers, technicians, cooks, file clerks, repairmen, warehouse managers – the war was essentially a self-contained economic system that swelled up out of nothing and covered the globe.

For most soldiers the dominant memory they had of the war was of that vast structure arching up unimaginably high overhead. It’s no coincidence that two of the most widely read and memorable American novels of the war, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, are almost wholly about the cosmic scale of the American military’s corporate bureaucracy and mention Hitler and the Nazis only in passing. Actual combat could seem like almost an incidental side product of the immense project of military industrialization. A battle for most soldiers was something that happened up the road, or on the fogbound islands edging the horizon, or in the silhouettes of remote hilltops lit up at night by silent flickering, which they mistook at first for summer lightning. And when reporters traveled through the vast territories under military occupation looking for some evidence of real fighting, what they were more likely to find instead was a scene like what Martha Gellhorn, covering the war for Collier’s, discovered in the depths of the Italian countryside: “The road signs were fantastic….The routes themselves, renamed for this operation, were marked with the symbols of their names, a painted animal or a painted object. There were the code numbers of every outfit, road warnings – bridge blown, crater mines, bad bends – indications of first-aid posts, gasoline dumps, repair stations, prisoner-of-war cages, and finally a marvelous Polish sign urging the troops to notice that this was a malarial area: this sign was a large green death’s-head with a mosquito sitting on it.”

That was the war: omnipresent, weedlike tendrils of contingency and code spreading over a landscape where the battle had long since passed.

It was much the same in the U.S. The bureaucracy of war became an overpowering presence in people’s lives, even though the reality of battle was impossibly remote. Prices were controlled by war-related government departments, nonessential nonmilitary construction required a nightmare of paperwork, food and gas were rationed – any long-distance car travel that wasn’t for war business meant a special hearing before a ration board, and almost every train snaking through the depths of the heartland had been commandeered for classified military transport. The necessities of war even broke up the conventional proprieties of marriage: the universal inevitability of military service meant that young couples got married quickly, sometimes at first meeting – and often only so the women could get the military paycheck and the ration stamps.

The war was the single dominant fact in the world, saturating every radio show and newspaper. Every pennant race was described on the sports pages in the metaphor of battle; every car wreck and hotel fire was compared to the air raids that everyone was still expecting to hit the blacked-out cities on the coasts.

But who was controlling the growth of this fantastic edifice? Nobody could say. People who went to Washington during those years found a desperately overcrowded town caught up in a kind of diffuse bureaucratic riot. New agencies and administrations overflowed from labyrinthine warrens of temporary office space. People came to expect that the simplest problem would lead to hours or days of wandering down featureless corridors, passing door after closed door spattered by uncrackable alphabetic codes: OPA, OWI, OSS. Nor could you expect any help or sympathy once you found the right office: if the swarms of new government workers weren’t focused on the latest crisis in the Pacific, they were distracted by the hopeless task of finding an apartment or a boarding house or a cot in a spare room. Either way, they didn’t give a damn about solving your little squabble about petroleum rationing.

It might have been some consolation to know that people around the world were stuck with exactly the same problems – particularly people on the enemy side. There was a myth (it still persists) that the Nazi state was a model of efficiency; the truth was that it was a bureaucratic shambles. The military functioned well – Hitler gave it a blank check – but civilian life was made a misery by countless competing agencies and new ministries, all claiming absolute power over every detail of German life. Any task, from getting repairs in an apartment building to requisitioning office equipment, required running a gauntlet of contradictory regulations. One historian later described Nazi Germany as “authoritarian anarchy.”

But then everything about the war was ad hoc and provisional. The British set up secret installations in country estates; Stalin had his supreme military headquarters in a commandeered Moscow subway station. Nobody cared about making the system logical, because everything only needed to happen once. Every battle was unrepeatable, every campaign was a special case. The people who were actually making the decisions in the war – for the most part, senior staff officers and civil service workers who hid behind anonymous doors and unsigned briefing papers – lurched from one improvisation to the next, with no sense of how much the limitless powers they were mustering were remaking the world.

But there was one constant. From the summer of 1942 on, the whole Allied war effort, the immensity of its armies and its industries, were focused on a single overriding goal: the destruction of the German army in Europe. Allied strategists had concluded that the global structure of the Axis would fall apart if the main military strength of the German Reich could be broken. But that task looked to be unimaginably difficult. It meant building up an overwhelmingly large army of their own, somehow getting it on the ground in Europe, and confronting the German army at point-blank range. How could this possibly be accomplished? The plan was worked out at endless briefings and diplomatic meetings and strategy sessions held during the first half of 1942. The Soviet Red Army would have to break through the Russian front and move into Germany from the east. Meanwhile, a new Allied army would get across the English Channel and land in France, and the two armies would converge on Berlin.

The plan set the true clock time of the war. No matter what the surface play of battle was in Africa or the South Seas, the underlying dynamic never changed: every hour, every day the Allies were preparing for the invasion of Europe. They were stockpiling thousands of landing craft, tens of thousands of tanks, millions upon millions of rifles and mortars and howitzers, oceans of bullets and bombs and artillery shells – the united power of the American and Russian economies was slowly building up a military force large enough to overrun a continent. The sheer bulk of the armaments involved would have been unimaginable a few years earlier. One number may suggest the scale. Before the war began the entire German Luftwaffe consisted of 4,000 planes; by the time of the Normandy invasion American factories were turning out 4,000 new planes every two weeks.

The plan was so ambitious that even with this torrential flow of war production it would take years before the Allies were ready. The original target date for the invasion was the spring of 1943 – but as that date approached the Allies realized they weren’t prepared to attempt it. So it was put off until the late spring of 1944. But what would happen in the meanwhile? A worldwide holding action. The Red Army would have to hang on to its positions in Russia, the Americans would go on inching their way into the Japanese empire, and the Allies everywhere would commit their forces to campaigns designed only to keep the Axis from expanding further. In the years between Pearl Harbor and the Normandy invasion the war around the world grew progressively larger, more diffuse, less conclusive, and massively more chaotic.

Those were desperate years. The storm center then was in Russia, where the German army was hurling attack after overwhelming attack at the Soviet lines. To this day, most Russians think World War II was something that happened primarily in their country and the battles everywhere else in the world were a sideshow. In August 1943, for instance, in the hilly countryside around the city of Kursk (about 200 miles south of Moscow), the German and Soviet armies collided in an uncontrolled slaughter: more than four million men and thousands of tanks desperately maneuvered through miles of densely packed minefields and horizon-filling networks of artillery fire. It may have been the single largest battle fought in human history, and it ended – like all the battles on the eastern front – in a draw.

The American military, meanwhile, was conducting campaigns that to this day are almost impossible to understand or justify. What was the point, for instance, of the Allied invasion of Italy in the summer of 1943? None of the reporters who covered it could figure it out. It was poorly planned and incompetently commanded, and its ultimate goal seemed preposterous: even if it had gone perfectly, it would have left a large army in northern Tuscany faced with the impossible task of getting across the Alps. Most baffling of all, Allied commanders up the line didn’t even seem to care whether it worked perfectly – or at all. One reporter, Eric Sevareid, watched it go on for 18 months of brutal stalemate and wrote an essay for the Nation (it’s the angriest and most honest piece in the whole of Reporting World War II) suggesting that its only real purpose was “to lay waste and impoverish for many years the major part of Italy.”

Somewhere in the bureaucratic stratosphere, of course, there were people who did know the justification for it and for everything else the Allies were doing. They just didn’t want to tell anybody what those reasons were. The Italian invasion, as it happened, was the result of a complicated attempt to appease the Russians, who were increasingly doubtful that their allies were serious about taking on Germany. It was intended as an expedient compromise – a direct confrontation with the Axis, in an area where defeat wouldn’t be fatal. In other words, there was no compelling military logic behind it; it was just an arbitrary way of marking time while the buildup for the real invasion went on.”

– Lee Sandlin, ‘Losing the War.’

Originally published in the Chicago Reader, March 7 and 14, 1997. (http://leesandlin.com/articles/LosingTheWar.htm)

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