Monday, September 7, 2009

Mob Rule

During the 1850's, the white population of the southern United States suffered a collective psychotic break with reality. A faction of northern white men, known by their political sentiments as Copperheads, shared this emotional, intellectual, and psychic collapse. These people, led by racist incendiaries known as Fire Eaters, convinced themselves that a Republican victory at the polls would mean the forced miscegenation of the races. (Never mind that the institution of slavery, with its institutionalized rape of slave property, had already produced a vast population of mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons throughout the South.)

These psychotics wanted - insisted! - that the North adjust its laws to define slaves as property, the subject of Torts, never Equity, in court. They worked themselves up to a fever pitch of insanity over this issue. These Lords of Creation loudly asserted their victim status as second class citizens. Unless the North secured them in their slave property throughout the Union, northern concepts of equal rights were gross hypocrisy, they insisted. They seduced themselves with the notion that mob violence was simply a collective expression of their First Amendment right to free speech.

Mark Twain ably captured this collective descent into unreality in LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI: "... Sir Walter Scott... sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm... Most of the world has now outlived a good part of these harms... but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still... There the genuine and wholesome civilization of the 19th Century is curiously confused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and so you have practical, common-sense progressive ideas and progressive works mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried."

This jejune romanticism, mixed with racism, idealized mob rule.

In St. Louis, in April 1837, two free black riverboat sailors were stopped by police and asked for their identification papers. They did not have any such papers. A mulatto shipmate, Francis McIntosh, knowing they would be sold into slavery, intervened. The two men escaped, but McIntosh was captured. The two policemen cracked a few jokes about the lynching awaiting their prisoner, inciting McIntosh. He killed one of his captors and badly wounded the other. A white mob joined the sheriff to capture McIntosh. The sheriff took the prisoner to jail. Soon, another white mob showed up at the jail, assaulted the sheriff and liberated his keys. They hauled McIntosh out of his cell, took him outdoors and tied him to a tree at 10th and Chestnut Streets. A pyre was promptly constructed. As the flames lapped higher, McIntosh, his facial features altering in the heat, begged someone to shoot him and end his agony. One man, moved by pity, raised his gun. The mob, enjoying this roasting of human flesh, prevented the mercy killing. McIntosh suffered to the utmost extremity.

A Grand Jury was convened to look into the matter. A judge, appropriately surnamed Lawless, informed the jurors that he considered it his duty to state his opinion that they should not act at all unless they could determine whether the roasting of McIntosh was the act of the few or the act of the many. If the jurors could pin the crime on a small number of individuals separated from the mass, they should indict them all without exception. On the other hand, if the roasting of McIntosh had been the work of "congregated thousands, seized upon and impelled by that mysterious, metaphysical, and almost electric phrenzy... then, I say, act not at all in the matter. The case then transcends your jurisdiction. It is beyond the reach of human law." In other words, mob violence is the highest form of justice, beyond Appeal.

A newspaper publisher, Elijah P. Lovejoy, condemned this barbarism in St. Louis. Soon, the mob showed up and destroyed his printing press. He got a new press, which they promptly destroyed again. And, again. Lovejoy moved across the river to Alton, Illinois, where he continued his anti-slavery crusade. Three more times his press was destroyed. Finally, a mob (including many of the leading citizens of Alton) murdered Lovejoy after burning down his business.

At a memorial service for Lovejoy at Western Reserve College, Laurens P. Hickok succinctly stated the moral predicament for enlightened Northerners: "The crisis has come. The question now before the American citizen is no longer alone, 'Can the slaves be made free?' but, are we free, or are we slaves under Southern mob law?"

In 1853, an ambitious young man named George G. Vest graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, well read in the Law. With the local bar oversupplied with attorneys, he decided to strike out for California. Along the way, he stopped for awhile in the hemp-growing, slave-owning region of central Missouri. The local judge appointed him to defend a black man accused of murder. He succeeded in getting the man acquitted. A mob formed, seized the black man, and, burned him at the stake. They very nearly applied the torch to young Mr. Vest.

A decade later, Missouri cast its ballots for Stephan A. Douglas in the 1860 election. In a somber mood after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, a convention gathered to consider an ordinance of secession. Mr. Vest, now a respected member of his central Missouri community, urged secession:

"I stand here today. come weal, come woe, sink or swim, survive or perish, to cast my political fortunes for all time, to give all that I have, and all that I am, to that people which is mine by lineage, by birth, and by institutions - the people of the South. The God who protected our forefathers, will protect the Southern people. We who live on the broad prairies of Missouri, with but few slaves around us, cannot appreciate the dangers that environ the men of the South, their wives and children... The horrors of a servile insurrection; their fear, and their hatred of a party which has elected to power a man who declares that slavery must be confined to the slave States, so that it may, like a scorpion, sting itself to death. How? In the blood and carnage of African lust and African rage."

Mr. Vest had never faced an African mob. After a decade of reflection, he blamed primitive Africans, the victims, for the violence of his own people. Clearly, the man had suffered a psychotic break with reality. And those who voted for secession suffered from the same delusions.

Again today, a significant percentage of the white population of the United States has suffered a collective psychotic break with reality. Led by the fire eaters of right wing talk radio, they nurse ridiculous grievances. Like the privileged slavemasters of the Old South, they argue that they are the victims of racism. Like the mob which formed to roast McIntosh, today's right wing nuts refused to exercise any self-restaint during the Professor Gates fracas. Like George G. Vest, they blame the victims for the evils of institutionalized racism. Like the Copperheads of Lincoln's day, they paint a wild, hate-filled caricature of the President and insist the office was obtained by illegitimate means. Collectively, they have gone berserk.

If the 1860's provide any guide for the rest of us, we should make preparations. Our mentally ill countrymen live in a world of dreams and phantoms, a subjective world they prefer, insulated from facts and reason. We outnumber them 7-3, but they are well-acclimated to violence. They own far more guns. Like the Secessionist rush to seize the arsenals in early 1861, they are hoarding as many guns as possible. Sales have skyrocketed since Obama was elected.

A psychopath can only be restrained by superior power. The raucous town hall meetings of August have filled them with delusions of grandeur. They must be reminded that we outnumber them. We must remain visible. It would be wise to spend some time at the shooting range, in groups, sporting t-shirts and bumper stickers identifying ourselves as supporters of progressive ideas. Hopefully, our visibility will sober them, enabling them to heed rational advice - such advice as Sam Houston gave his fellow Southerners as the storm gathered:

"... let me tell you what is coming. Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet... You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence... but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche..."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monotheism, Misogyny, and Messengers

Leviticus 19:20-22 reads, "And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the Lord, into the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the Lord for his sin which he hath done; and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him."

Where is the equity in these gender-specific punishments? The man yields up a ram for to the meat packing monopoly of the Cohens and the Levites and his sin is forgiven. The slave girl, coerced by her servitude into carnality, is scourged... unforgiven! And even though Jewish scourging was not the sadistic preliminary to crucifixion practiced by the Romans, it made for an unpleasant day. Clearly, this is nothing less than sanctified misogyny.

Jesus opposed misogyny. When the Pharisees asserted their right to divorce their wives under the Mosaic law, Jesus dismissed their argument, remarking that Moses, "For the hardness of your heart, he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore that God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

This does more than proscribe divorce. Put together with his admonition, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", Jesus obliterates the foundations of the Mosaic Law.. Oh, by the way, this also points the way to an organic religion growing with the social consciousness of Humanity.

Monotheism penetrated the Arabian peninsula unevenly. By the time of Mohammed (blessings and peace be upon him!), most pagan communities, organized matriarchally, practiced polytheism. Mohammed made it his life work to rectrieve this situation for Allah.

In his last months, Mohammed consolidated his gains by dispatching ambassadors to the far corners of Arabia, inviting/threatening non-believers to Islam. To the Yemen, he sent Mu'adh. A spirited Yemeni woman confronted him: "O companion of God's apostle, what rights has a husband over his wife?" Mu'Adh answered: "Woe to you. A woman can never fulfill her husband's rights, so do your utmost to fulfill his claims as best you can." The woman insisted: "By God! If you are the companion of God's apostle, you must know what rights a husband has over his wife." Mu'adh ejaculated: "If you were to go back and find him with his nostrils running with pus and blood and sucked until you got rid of them, you would not have fulfilled your obligation."

Mohammed later clarified the domestic issue in an address to the men. "You have rights over your wives and they have rights over you. You have the right that they should not defile your bed and they should not behave with open unseemliness. If they do, God allows you to put them in separate rooms and to beat them but not with severity. Lay injunctions on a woman kindly, for they are prisoners with you having no control over their persons. You have taken them as a trust from God, and you have the enjoyment of their persons by the words of God.."

What a deal?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Our Moment of Zen

How would you have answered the final question at the Nashville Presidential Debate? Do you remember the question? "What don't you know and how will you learn it?"

Senator Obama seized upon it as a moment to praise his wife. Then, he skillfully weaved around the question. I don't remember how Senator McCain dealt with the question.

That question reminded me of an Ashleigh Brilliant cartoon, which read, "If you wait until you are completely, absolutely, totally ready, you never will be." Though I am certain that Senator Obama could plumb the depths of that question, he chose not to provide the McCain campaign with grist for the mill. It was politically imperative for Senator Obama to parry all vollies casting doubt on his experience.

Yet, it would have been instructive to be reminded of the day William Tecumseh Sherman met President Lincoln shortly after the inauguration in March 1861. Senator John Sherman, of Ohio, introduced his brother by telling the President about William's trip from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Upon secession, Colonel (later, General) Sherman had resigned his position as Commandant of the Louisiana Military Academy and traveled by rail across the South. He had witnessed feverish preparations for war. Sherman tried hard to convey his alarm. Lincoln shrugged it off, remarking, "Well, I reckon we'll find a way to keep house." Sherman left that meeting thoroughly disgusted with the ignorant huckster in the White House.

Yet, we all know that President Lincoln rose to the challenge. The President, himself, could not foresee the immensity of the burden he was doomed to carry. He may not have known his shoulders could bear it. Only by bearing it did he learn he could bear it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Immorality, High and Low

The financial crisis is man-made. It exposes the peculiar collective evils of the two major political parties. The foundation lies in the widespread, low-level immorality of the American public. Everyone wants to leverage themselves into the biggest possible home. To achieve this, they sought to rig (subprime) the entire housing market. And they empowered the Democratic party to deliver this rigged, highly combustible market for the American people. How overvalued is the real estate market? Lord only knows!

The immorality of Main Street congeals on Wall Street. There one finds the concentrated, high-level, egregious immorality which provides the accelerant for the IED constructed by the Democrats. There you will find people who quickly realized they could skim billions for themselves out of the rigged market. To cash in, they needed an emasculated regulatory regime. They wanted the Wild West, and the Republican Party gave it to them... complete with a brain-dead cowboy in the White House.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Crime Far Worse than Murder

Reflecting upon the widespread misery of the Great Depression, precipitated by the rampant greed of speculators, Herbert Hoover concluded that, "There are crimes far worse than murder for which men should be reviled and punished."

This week, the Wall Street pirates are begging to dump their toxic, fetid waste into the taxpayers' collective lap. Some of our Congressmen, echoing our disgust and contempt, are demanding a morale-boosting quid pro quo. Through them, we want to cut the strings of the golden parachutes, quash the bonuses, and bring the salaries down from the stratosphere. Executive compensation is an issue!

And all week we have heard the mealy-mouthed pundits and Wall Street analysts warn us that, if we rein in executive compensation, the big wigs may not participate in the bail out plan.

Well, if they won't participate, we should do as President Hoover suggested. Line them all up on Wall Street and execute them. A few hundred corpses might serve as a salutary example incentiving the rest to play ball.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Girlie Men?

I just received an e-mail attachment from a dear friend, a likable fellow (though a bit of a Limbaugh dittohead). Fortunately, he is wed to a charming, warm-hearted, centrist Democrat who rubs the keen edge from his more extreme right wing opinions.

Nonetheless, he just forwarded a scurrilous bit of typical right wing nut job nonsense. Therein, it is urged, the conservatives are the he-men who build things, make them work, and provide for their women. Liberals are girlie men, whose women are blessed (or cursed, perhaps?) with a higher level of testosterone. These girlie men spend most of their time eating camembert, drinking chablis, and aping French fashions. The rest of the time they devote to dreaming up ways to steal from heroic, hard-working conservatives.

This e-mail was entitled HISTORY 101. So, let's test it against historical facts. How about recent history?

The conservative, George W. Bush, used family influence to evade service in Vietnam. He spent the war muttering into his beer that LBJ should nuke the gooks. Meanwhile, the liberal, John Kerry, though opposing the war, volunteered to serve. His family connections were just as well-placed as those of big-mouthed young Bush, yet he served. That other heroic conservative, Richard Cheney, of course, used the college deferment program six times to evade service.

Let's compare the service of Anthony Zinni and Paul Wolfowitz, antagonists during the run-up to the brain-dead invasion of Iraq. Zinni served in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. Seriously wounded in battle, with his guts spilling out on a hillside, he vowed to prevent our country from making such a bonehead mistake again. Wolfowitz, like that other hero, Cheney, made use of the college deferment program to evade service. Perhaps, had he experienced Zinni's painful Vietnamese adventure, he might not have urged on the misadventure in Iraq. He might have have gained experience in counter-insurgency, enabling him to appreciate General Shinseki's sober assessment of troop requirements for post-war Iraq. Instead, he made the following asinine statement.

"It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself."

Naturally, it was hard for him to "conceive that it would take more forces." He evaded the experience which would have enabled him to so conceive.

Shall we move on to another comparison? How about the two journalists, William Kristol and James Webb?

Webb, of course, wrote eloquently against Kristol's steady drumbeat for war. Kristol opined that an occupation would require 75,000 troops, costing about $16 billion per year. Webb warned that the entire venture risked the squandering of our primary strategic asset - Mobility - on a static occupation. The cost would be much higher. It has turned out to be 150,000 troops (which is still thin, according to counter-insurgency theory), costing about $12 billion per month.

Kristol took advantage of the college deferment program to study at Harvard. Webb, far more gifted intellectually than Kristol, served with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, earning the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars, and 2 Purple Hearts. Perhaps, had Kristol gained the sort of experience Webb gained, he might not have made the following utterly dense pre-war remark.

"There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America that the Shi'a cannot get along with the Sunni and the Shi'a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that. Iraq's always been very secular."

Consider the breathtaking scope of this kind determined ignorance. With a casual wave of the hand, Mr. Kristol dismissed 14 centuries of Islamic history. This is willful ignorance. Inspired imbecility.

I can draw more portraits of girlie men if you like. This historical pattern is evident when one compares the World War II biographies of the victims and victimizers of the McCarthy witch hunts. It shows up in the World War I biographies of KKK enrollment during the Twenties. It shows up when one compares the biographies of antebellum Southern moderates with the fire eaters. It shows up during the American Revolution.

The average right wing nut is all mouth, seduced by his own mythomania. In other words, he is a chap whose head is buried so deep up his alimentary canal that he needs a sphincterectomy to pull it out. Without the help of warm-hearted centrist Democrats, Lord knows what contortions they might put themselves through.. and the country!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Bible and the United Nations

A few years ago, I read the Bible from cover to cover.. something I had not done in the previous half-century. I took 41 pages of notes. Several themes stood out in sharp relief.. issues seldom, if ever, discussed in the mass media echo chamber. For example, throughout the Old Testament there is a vigorous debate over these primitive questions: 1) Is God our special tribal god, or is He a Univeral God?, and 2) Does God eat meat?

The Old Testament, to my astonishment, did not settle these questions. In fact, those who doubted that God was a voracious carnivore, like King David, found themselves at odds with the Temple Elders.. and forced to recant. One cannot help but suspect that the Cohens and the Levites, the priestly castes, worked overtime to preserve their meatpacking monopoly. I also suspect that Jesus' condemnation of the moneychangers at the Temple was a renewal of King David's challenge to animal sacrifice.. a much more determined challenge. Jesus never backed down, not even on the cross.

The condemnation of Nationalism is another major Biblical theme which never pierces the echo chamber. Verse after verse equates Nationalism with polytheism and idolatry.

"All the gods of the nations are idols." (Psalms 96:5)

"I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations." (Psalms 57:9)

"Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice: and let men say among the nations, The Lord reigneth." (Chronicles I 16:31)

"O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon the earth." (Psalms 67:4)

"The Lord hath a controversy with the nations." (Jeremiah 25:31)

"Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men." (Pslams 9:20)

"All the nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them." (Psalms 118:10)

"Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations." (Psalms 82:8)

"And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city: for God did vex them all with adversity." (Chronicles II 15:6)

These very verses, so plain in meaning, are often turned upside down by National fetishists to condemn the United Nations.. the very institution which must unite all of God's children.

P.S. The capitol will be at Jerusalem.

"At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it." (Jeremiah 3:17)