Correction: In comments, I've written that slaves were worth 75 billion in 1860 dollars. That is wrong. It's 75 billion in today's dollars, and three billion in 1860 dollars. My apologies.
One of the more unfortunate aspects of blogging about the Civil War is that a great deal of time is expended on debunking, as opposed to discovery. Instead of looking at, say, Unionism in Tennessee, or Native American participation in the Confederate Army, we end up revisiting black Confederates again. I've tried to avoid this. But history is political and the deployment of comfortable narratives is a constant malady. Moreover, I get something out of these repeated debunkings that I didn't realize until this weekend. My wife recently noted that is not unusual for scientist to spend as much, or more, time disproving things, as opposed to proving. She added that sometimes in disproving, they actually make a discovery.
I've been thinking about that some in my posts on Ron Paul, Howard Zinn and the issue of compensated emancipation. To be blunt, I am unsatisfied with my rebuttal. I have a case which demonstrates, on a surface, why compensated emancipation as an alternative to the Civil War, is ridiculous. But it isn't complete. It doesn't attack at all angles.
The problem debating this sort of thing is the side of dishonesty and intellectual laziness is at an advantage. It will likely take more effort for me to compose this post, then it took for Ron Paul to stand before the Confederate Flag and offer his thin gruel of history. Those attempting to practice history need not only gather facts, but seek out facts that might contradict the facts they like, and then gather more facts of context to see what it all means.
But Comfortable History is asymmetrical warfare it needs only a smattering of facts, and need not guard against a lack of context, presentism, or other facts that might undermine its arguments. Instead it breezily proceeds through hypotheticals and abstract thought experiments which somehow satisfy our desire to be in possession of a dissident intellect. Comfortable History is like the computer virus that poses as the shield -- it positions the espouser as a brave truth-teller, even as it infects us with lies.
All this fueled by the fact that are real viruses, that we are often lied to. The government didn't invent HIV, but Tuskegee happened and people who believe the former are always about the business of citing the latter. The Comfortable History is surely cynical -- but it gives us a pattern of broad paranoia which we can obey. In the way that a lawful evil dictatorship will always be preferable to a chaotic evil anarchy, cynicism gives us bright lines. It gives us patterns and thus avoids the atheistic truth--that there are no patterns, that there is no Law Of History, that all of it is chaos.
Against that chaos, we have the light of our critical thinking skills and in applying them, in working harder those who seek only to comfort, we are rewarded with deeper insights. It is from that perspective, that I'd like to address this question of "Compensated Emancipation" and enlist the help of this knowledgeable group of readers to fill in the gaps. Consider this an advanced Talk To Me Like I'm Stupid. (It will be edited. Think before you write. Also, please don't just throw in links, with a "Check out this." Or "read this book," Not that we're opposed to books, but we need actual comments. It is permissible to say nothing.)
We know that slaves were, far and away, the most valuable asset in the country, such that a town like Natchez, Mississippi, by 1860, had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the country. We know that all of that wealth was built off of slavery, and slave-trading, We know that slavery was not merely an economic system, but a social system which transformed white Southern men into the broadest aristocracy in world history. As Daniel Hundley put it, slavery means that "every free white man in the whole Union has just as much right to become an oligarch."
With us the two great divisions of society are not rich and poor, but white and black; and all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.
We know that his junior colleague John Henry Hammond argued:
In a slave country, every freeman is an aristocrat. Be he rich or poor, if he does not possess a single slave, he has been born to all the natural advantages of the society in which he is placed; and all its honors lie open to him, inviting his genius and industry. Sir, I do firmly believe, that domestic slavery, regulated as our is, produces the highest toned, the purest, best organization of society, that has ever existed on the face of this Earth.
We know that states like Mississippi and South Carolina were, in 1860, majority black and thus compensated emancipation in Hammond and Calhoun's South Carolina would not simply mean the end of this broad aristocracy, but the prospect of a free white populations outnumbered by a free black population. We can thus surmise that it is no coincidence that South Carolina inaugurated the Civil War.
We know that to alleviate fears of black majority, compensated emancipation was usually partnered with a proposal of colonization -- that is the removal of African-Americans from slave states to colonies in Africa or the Caribbean. We know that colonization was a polarizing issue in the black community, and by 1860, much of its popular support had collapsed. Thus we know that any contemplation of compensated emancipation must grapple with how several counties, and some states in the South, would react to finding themselves suddenly outnumbered by free black people.
We know that there is a strong moral case against compensated emancipation -- that slavery is the theft of one person's labor for the benefit of another -- and thus any moral talk of "compensation" should include compensation for the slaves. We know that such talk is presently deemed "reparations" and enjoyed as little currency in the 19th century as it did in the 20th and the 21st.
We know all of this. And yet somehow we don't know enough. Let us set forth "the more" which we should know:
1.) Was there any debate at all about compensated emancipation in the South, before the Civil War, and what was the fate of that debate? Here, I bet the records of the American Colonization Society, might help. But I'd like to know, specifically, about debates around payment for the liberation of slaves.
2.) Was a mass payment toward slave-holders even possible? We know that in 1860, slaves were worth $3 billion in 1860 dollars (75 billion in today's dollars.) Did the American government have access to those sorts of funds? If so, how would they have been garnered?
3.) It is often claimed that only in the United States was war necessary. We know this to be false, given the fate of Haiti. But what about in the rest of the Western hemisphere? Is it correct to argue that abolition happened nonviolently everywhere else? Even if it did, would it have happened without the bloody example of the Civil War? (I'm thinking Cuba, for instance.)
4.) Assuming compensation, how would Southerners have reacted to a substantial black minority in their midst? What would the labor system have looked like? What would have happened with black male suffrage? How would the white working class reacted to finding itself in competition with blacks?
5.) What was the Southern attitude toward war? Given that South Carolina fired the first shots, was it there expectation that hundreds of thousands of people would die? How did Southern expectations impact on their views of giving up slavery?
6.) Why didn't England have a war over slavery? What were the specific differences between England slave colonies and the Antebellum South?
These are but a few of the questions that extend outside of my purview.I don't do this out of any hope of converting anyone away from Ron Paul. He is, at this point, a savior for people who badly need one. Moreover, I'm not much interested in balancing his view of history with his views on the drug war. Expect that any person who makes his pitch with a Confederate Flag as his backdrop, will have a very hard time making any other pitch to the most suffering mass of the drug war's victims.
Still the gaps should be filled--not for conversion, but for our own curiosity. Robbed of a Comfortable History, we are all we have. Our prophets are dead.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
They’re stuck between corporations trying to extract maximum profits from each flight and passengers who can broadcast their frustration on social media.
Two weeks ago, a man was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight after being told it was overbooked. And late last week, American Airlines suspended a flight attendant after a fight nearly broke out between a passenger and the crew, over a stroller. What did the two incidents have in common? Both stories went viral after passengers’ videos showcased the rotten conditions of flying in coach today. But also, in both cases, it’s not particularly clear that the airline employees caught on camera had many better options.
On the infamous United flight, employees, following protocol, had to call security agents to remove a passenger in Chicago, due to a last-minute need to transport crew to fly out of Louisville the following day. United’s contract of carriage gives employees broad latitude to deny boarding to passengers. On the other hand, it is terrible to force a sitting passenger to get up and de-board a plane. So, the attendants were stuck: Either four people already seated had to leave the plane, or a flight scheduled the next day would have been grounded due to the lack of crew—which would have punished even more paying customers.
Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones. One shortcut is an approach called environmental storytelling. Environmental stories invite players to discover and reconstruct a fixed story from the environment itself. Think of it as the novel wresting the real-time, first-person, 3-D graphics engine from the hands of the shooter game. In Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, dioramas summarize the plot and setting of the film. In the 2007 game BioShock, recorded messages in an elaborate, Art Deco environment provide context for a story of a utopia’s fall. And in What Remains of Edith Finch, a new game about a girl piecing together a family curse, narration is accomplished through artifacts discovered in an old house.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
A lab has successfully gestated premature lambs in artificial wombs. Are humans next?
When babies are born at 24 weeks’ gestation, “it is very clear they are not ready to be here,” says Emily Partridge, a research fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Doctors dress the hand-sized beings in miniature diapers and cradle them in plastic incubators, where they are fed through tubes. In many cases, IV lines deliver sedatives to help them cope with the ventilators strapped to their faces.
Each year, about 30,000 American babies are born this early—considered “critically preterm,” or younger than 26 weeks. Before 24 weeks, only about half survive, and those who live are likely to endure long-term medical complications. “Among those that survive, the challenges are things we all take for granted, like walking, talking, seeing, hearing,” says Kevin Dysart, a neonatologist at the Children’s Hospital.
From Anaïs to Zizek, a brief list of "shibboleth names"
In October 1937, the president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, devised a simple way to identify the Haitian immigrants living along the border of his country. Dominican soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley—perejil in Spanish—and ask people to identify it. Those who spoke Spanish would pronounce the word's central "r" with that language's characteristic trill; the Haitians, on the other hand, would bury the "r" sound in the throaty way of the French. To be on the receiving end of the parsley test would be to seal, either way, one's fate: The Spanish-speaking Dominicans were left to live, and the Haitians were slaughtered. It was a state-sponsored genocide that would be remembered, in one of history's greatest understatements, as the Parsley Massacre.
Those who speak Toki Pona say linguistic simplicity can enable a more profound form of communication.
In Chinese, the word computer translates directly as electric brain.
In Icelandic, a compassis a direction-shower, and a microscope a small-watcher.
In Lakota, horse is literally dog of wonder.
These neologisms demonstrate the cumulative quality of language, in which we use the known to describe the unknown.
“It is by metaphor that language grows,” writes the psychologist Julian Jaynes. “The common reply to the question ‘What is it?’ is, when the reply is difficult or the experience unique, ‘Well, it is like —.’”
That metaphorical process is at the heart ofToki Pona, the world’s smallest language. While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words. Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.
The Hulu show has created a world that’s visually and psychologically unlike anything in film or television.
Call it luck, call it fate, call it the world’s most ridiculous viral marketing campaign, but the first television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale is debuting on Wednesday to audiences who are hyper-ready for it. The 1985 speculative fiction work by Margaret Atwood has featured on library waitlists and Amazon’s top 20 for months now—partly in anticipation of the new Hulu show, and partly in response to the strange new landscape that emerged after November 9, wherein women in the millions felt compelled to take to the streets to assert their attachment to reproductive freedom. (When the release date for The Handmaid’s Tale was announced in December, people joked that it would likely be a documentary by the time it arrived on TV screens.)
The early results out of a Boston nonprofit are positive.
You saw the pictures in science class—a profile view of the human brain, sectioned by function. The piece at the very front, right behind where a forehead would be if the brain were actually in someone’s head, is the pre-frontal cortex. It handles problem-solving, goal-setting, and task execution. And it works with the limbic system, which is connected and sits closer to the center of the brain. The limbic system processes emotions and triggers emotional responses, in part because of its storage of long-term memory.
When a person lives in poverty, a growing body of research suggests the limbic system is constantly sending fear and stress messages to the prefrontal cortex, which overloads its ability to solve problems, set goals, and complete tasks in the most efficient ways.