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.
Senator John McCain and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly offered starkly different visions of service—and of America.
It was a week of powerful speeches. The least memorable, oddly, was delivered by the most naturally gifted speaker, former President Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Virginia. “Our democracy is at stake,” he said, before harking back to the trope of his 2008 campaign: “Yes, we can.” Compelling in the setting, but not special.
Far more powerful was former President George W. Bush’s indictment of Donald Trump that didn’t mention the 45th president by name. It was a cry for freedom as a theme in American policy, a denunciation of “casual cruelty” in American discourse, of “nationalism distorted into nativism,” of isolationism, of attempts to turn American identity away from American ideals and into something darker, driven by “geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.” In itself it would have been noteworthy.
Four families of fallen servicemembers received next-day UPS letters from President Trump after a turbulent week in which Trump falsely claimed he had called “virtually all” of the families.
Updated on October 22, 2017.
The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president’s characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called “virtually” all fallen servicemembers’ families since his time in office.
Timothy Eckels Sr. hadn’t heard anything from President Trump since his son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed after a collision involving the USS John S. McCain on August 21. But then, on October 20, two days into the controversy over the president’s handling of a condolence call with an American soldier’s widow, Eckels Sr. received a United Parcel Service package dated October 18 with a letter from the White House.
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
A neuroscientist on how we came to be aware of ourselves.
Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?
The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.
A stunning new speculative-fiction book by Naomi Alderman couldn’t be more timely.
One of the most succinct definitions of sexual harassment I’ve read over the past few weeks goes like this: For men, it’s anything they might say to a woman that would make them uncomfortable if it were said to them, but in prison. It’s glib, sure. But it gets at the fundamental imbalance of power that characterizes relationships between men and women. To understand what it’s like for a woman to be catcalled, or harassed, or propositioned, it isn’t enough for men to simply put themselves in that woman’s place. They also have to imagine what it’s like to sense the imminent danger in those interactions—to be weaker than their aggressor in every way, and to have that weakness woven into the fabric of society itself. As the adage often attributed to Margaret Atwood goes, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
Monday afternoon, President Trump delivered a press conference from an alternative reality, or perhaps a slightly-less-dark timeline. His relationship with Mitch McConnell is great! They have the votes for Obamacare repeal! The hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico is a smashing success! Democrats are to blame for GOP divisions on Capitol Hill! These claims range from the highly dubious to the patently false.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
Donald Trump’s recent tweet about long-secret JFK files is a way for the president to try to reclaim a status that has repeatedly helped him.
One of the stranger aspects of having a conspiracy theorist in the Oval Office is that it goes against the way conspiracy theorizing usually works.
Conspiracy theories are a way to stand up, through disbelief, against the powerful. Those who spread conspiracy theories in earnest are, whether they mean to or not, partaking in an act of defiance against established institutions as much as they are questioning accepted truths. Usually, then, a refusal to believe the widely accepted explanation of how something happened originates from outside of official channels like government. A president might be the one accused of the conspiracy; rarely is he the one spreading rumors.
A new bookfollows Joseph Lister as he ushers surgery into the modern age.
Joseph Lister came of age as surgery was being transformed. With the invention of anesthesia, operations could move beyond two-minute leg amputations that occasionally lopped off a testicle in haste. (True story.) But as surgeons poked and prodded deeper into the body, surgery only became more deadly.
It was the infections that killed people.
And it was Lister who first realized that germ theory has profound implications for medicine. In a new biography of Lister, Lindsey Fitzharris argues that the invention of antisepsis marks the true beginning of modern surgery. The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine takes its title from Lister’s own notes, where he writes of his love for “this bloody and butcherly department of the healing art.”