This weekend, while reading about the brutal treatment of Jarm Logue, I remembered a quote from Hobbes which commenter absurdbeats commonly alludes to:
The natural state of men, before they entered into society, was a mere war, and that not simply, but a war of all men against all men.
What Hobbes is arguing (correct me if I am wrong) is that without a sovereign, without a social compact, without the tools of governance, without civic mores, mankind quickly descends into a state of chaos and war, a period of "going for delf," as my people would say, or a war of "all against all" as the philosophers have rendered it.
I've turned that phrase, "All against All," around in my head for some time now. It's a deeply poetic rendering of violent anarchy, and it also has something to tell us about the 250 years between the onset of American slavery and the Civil War.
Hobbes expands some on how the world looks in a time of All Against All:
Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man...
In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
I think this definition gives too much weight to violence, and too little to the resourcefulness of humans. Nevertheless, Hobbes' description of a time when "the fruit thereof is uncertain" when there is "continual fear, and danger of violent death" and life "poor, nasty, brutish and short" is a very good summation of the lives of enslaved black people during those 250 years.
Those years did not simply visit great violence upon black people, they invented our modern American concept of whiteness. Effectively they created the borders for the tribe we today call "White People." Thus whereas the 250 years preceding 1865 brought suffering to black people, they brought a nationhood to white people, fashioning them into collective, singular "All" rooted in the manufactured privilege un-blackness. One of war's great powers is the promotion of this sort of cohesion, and it is often attended by the naming of a "Them"--the foreign, the contemptible, the justly warred upon.
What if we thought of those pivotal 250 years, not simply as War against black people as I have argued, but as a time when the great American "All" united in massive violence against the great American "Them?" And what if we considered this period, in some Hobbesian sense, as not simply a war, but as means of sociological, economic and political construction brought about through a long period of war against the black body--an time of "All Against Them."
Now, I would argue, we can move away from the notion that the most important, and significant violence, happened on battlefields, that the violence which matters can only occur between two states, as well as the unfortunately popular notion that in 1860, mass existential violence was suddenly and tragically visited upon an otherwise peaceful and sleepy American republic.
Instead what actually happend in 1860 is the "All" (temporarily) shattered. The Fugitive Slave Act is instructive here. It did not simply mandate that slave-catchers had the right to pursue black people into free states, but that white Northerners--as dutiful members of the "All"--must assist in their recapture. The Law was met with much resistance from whites, thus exposing the fractures in the All's social compact.
Every failed compromise, every attack by John Brown, every assist given by whites to fugitive blacks, is another fracture in the All, until 1860 when Abraham Lincoln wins the presidency on an explicitly anti-Slavery platform.
My thoughts are still raw here and I'm trying to pull together a lot. Please forgive me for the messiness of the logic here. This is public thinking.
For those who are new to this you can see a great deal of our conversations on the subject, which now span some four years, here. You can see the specifics of this particular argument, gradually being engaged here, here, here, here, here, here and ultimately here. It's also worth checking this reaction to Edmund Morgan rendering slavery not as an American birth-defect, but as its mid-wife.
For some, abandoning expensive urban centers would be a huge financial relief.
Neal Gabler has been a formative writer for me: His Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity was one of the books that led me to think about leaving scholarship behind and write nonfiction instead, and Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination was the first book I reviewed as a freelance writer. To me, he exemplifies the best mix of intensive archival research and narrative kick.
So reading his recent essay, "The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans," was a gut punch: First, I learned about a role model of mine whose talent, in my opinion, should preclude him from financial woes. And, then, I was socked by narcissistic outrage: I, too, struggle with money! I, too, am a failing middle-class American! I, too, am a writer of nonfiction who should be better compensated!
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
The team, which had 5,000-to-1 odds of winning the English Premier League, has pulled off the biggest upset in sports history.
Much to everyone’s disbelief, the Leicester City soccer club was crowned the champion of the English Premier League Monday.
The team’s chances last summer were small, to say the least. Back then, William Hill, a British betting group, put the odds of the Foxes of Leicester City, a fledgling team based two hours north of London, of winning at 5,000-to-1. Essentially, the team had a .0002 percent chance of being the best team in the league of 20. Except for the 25 people who bet a combined total of just $243 on the team through William Hill, no one expected this from Leicester City.
Here’s some perspective: William Hill once put the odds of Elvis being found alive and well at 2,000-to-1 and an acknowledgment by the U.S. government that the first moon landing was faked at 500-to-1.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Don’t expect Hillary Clinton to stay above the fray in the general election—her campaign plans “sustained and brutal attacks” on Donald Trump.
As they look ahead to the general election, some commentators envision a campaign in which Donald Trump attacks viciously and Hillary Clinton makes a virtue of her refusal to stoop to his level. “I think Trump’s method will be to turn on the insult comedy against Hillary Clinton,” declared GOP consultant Mike Murphy earlier this week. “Her big judo move is playing the victim.” Vox’s Ezra Klein speculated earlier this year that “Trump sets up Clinton for a much softer and unifying message than she’d be able to get away with against a candidate like [Marco] Rubio.”
I doubt it will play out that way. Rope-a-dope isn’t Clinton’s style. When facing political threats, her pattern has been to strike first—and with great force.
The newly discovered worlds are now the most promising targets in the search for life among the stars—and the race to take a closer look at them has begun.
The robot telescope settles on its target, a star that sits closer than all but a tiny fraction of the tens of billions of stellar systems that make up the Milky Way. Its mirror grabs light for 55 seconds, again and again. The robot telescope—called TRAPPIST—will observe the star for 245 hours across sixty-two nights, making 12,295 measurements. Eleven times, it will see the star dim, ever so slightly. This dip in luminosity, called a transit, has a straightforward astronomical explanation: It’s a planet passing in front of the star, blocking just a bit of its light. In this case, the transits tell us that 3 planets orbit the star.
“So what?” you might think.
Astronomers have been spotting planets around distant stars for years now, using the transit method, among others. Not a month goes by without a headline, touting the discovery of new “exoplanets.” But these planets are different, and not only because they’re near. Like the Earth these planets could potentially permit liquid water to persist on their surfaces—which is thought to be a key pre-condition for the emergence of life. Today, when their discovery is published in Nature, they will instantly become the most promising planets yet found in the search for life among the stars.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.