Pathological Ownership

Beth Moore has left the Southern Baptist Conference. If you are unaware of her and what this means, you should look into it. Beth Moore has for many years occupied a special place within that community—a preacher without portfolio, one might say, as the SBC does not permit women to hold the title “pastor.” The straight-up “pure quill” fundamentalism they espouse holds the inferred Biblical injunctions inviolable in this instance, but she has been such a forceful speaker and operates such a large organization that they are loathe to relegate her to silence. So she held that special position.

Till now.

She has split with them over Trump. The schism is instructive. Ms. Moore cannot find common ground with the majority of her colleagues over Trump.

“He became the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America,” she said. “Nothing could have prepared me for that.”

Since 2016 she has been on the outside of the SBC over this issue. She identified Trump as an exemplar of everything their should stand against, and yet she was met with silence, then disapproval, then warnings, and finally with the loss of her publisher. She could not understand the attitude of her (male) colleagues in their support for this man she saw as a walking “poster child” for evil.

To be sure, this has puzzled those outside the evangelical camp all along. The slogans and protestations over perceived moral lapses in Democrats would seem to support a no-holds-barred moralism that should have found Trump utterly unacceptable. And yet we have been witness to very public campaigns of image rehabilitation all along. It has been with mixed incomprehension and horror that we have seen people who flew into paroxysms of condemnation over Clinton’s behavior make showings of almost servile support (bordering on worship) for a man who bragged about pussy-grabbing and attempted to pay off a porn star to keep her from talking about her paid services to him. The very public ridicule he heaped on anyone who did not fit shallow model of Americanism that combined a host of clichés and segregated anyone who didn’t meet the standard—essentially the acts of a bully picking on the weak—seemed to gain favor with the very people who claim Jesus as their exemplar. Beth Moore saw this for what it was and tried to convince the SBC to abandon its support for him, and instead found herself more and more at odds with them, more and more isolated.

It is fair to ask what is going on with this enormous contradiction. How could the self-professed moral arbiters of the country, the Christian Right, support this?

Beth Moore’s ambiguous status holds much of the answer.

It is by now a convention that in many religions women are relegated to secondary (or lesser) status. One may puzzle about how this can still pertain in a time when the evidence for any rational justification for it has been shown to be nonexistent. Certainly it is an aspect of male privilege, but that does not satisfactorily explain the complicit acquiescence of so many women. Moore is a good example of the conundrum. (Just as with people like Michele Bachman, who espouses a paradoxical belief that women should be subservient yet she herself sees no problem with holding leadership positions.) In Moore’s case, she has been in accord with the evangelical attitudes toward women and accepted a lesser status even while she has risen to a commanding position in her community. She felt the larger message important and, no doubt, felt protected within the larger community.

But when Trump’s very public attitudes toward women became a very public issue, and she protested, that community seemed to withdraw its protection.

In my opinion, this apparent betrayal is due to a basic misunderstanding which is not only endemic to communities like the SBC, but to our society as a whole, and it has to do with Ownership.

The only reason to deny equality to women and then justify it, you have to understand who thinks who owns what.

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, The Dispossessed, there is a scene early on which strikes the issue squarely. It is a flashback of the protagonist, Shevek, as a child in, basically, preschool:

…the fat infant was at this moment coming towards the knobby one rapidly…he approached out of boredom or sociability, but once in the square of sunlight he discovered it was warm there. He sat down heavily beside the knobby one, crowding him into the shade.

The knobby one’s blank rapture gave place at once to a scowl of rage. He pushed the fat one, shouting “Go ‘way!”

…The knobby one stood up. His face was a glare of sunlight and anger. His diapers were about to fall off. “Mine!” he said in a high, ringing voice. “Mine sun!”

“It is not yours,” the one-eyed woman said with the mildness of utter certainty. “Nothing is yours. It is to use.  It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.” And she picked the knobby baby up with gentle inexorable hands and set him aside, out of the square of sunlight.

The knobby one shook all over, screamed, “Mine sun!” and burst into tears of rage.

Baby Shevek has determined that things belong to him. Personally. Perfectly natural, to a degree. The world is centered on him, he feels he has a right to the patch of sunlight, that he can, in fact, own it. We read the passage with a mix of amusement and enlightenment. We recognize this to be an infant’s response to the reality of the world.

But.

Our culture is based, largely if not wholly, on an idea of ownership that was in the beginning a redress of imbalance. The idea that anyone, regardless of “station”, could own property was radical, especially in its unremarked egalitarianism. Communal ownership was more common, but this was not the aspect of ownership that captured the imagination—rather, it was the sole ownership, the possibility the individual, any individual, could own outright the equivalent of a kingdom that became the unquestioned ethos of the American experiment. This idea—so powerful, so very American in its expression if not its origins—fueled the growth of the United States and rocketed us to heights unparalleled in history.

And it underlies everything that is currently wrong with the republic. It has always had its dark side, it has never been free of abuse, but it has gone through cycles during which it was tempered—by circumstance, by public morality, by the very excesses of those most adept at acquisition. Boom and Bust cycles are the product of poorly controlled acquisition. Theodore Roosevelt knew it and attacked it. His relative, FDR, went further.

But it’s very difficult to regulate that which is an outgrowth of a cultural feature, part of our own mythology, our identity—our psychology. Any attempt to regulate it feels like theft.

This is not new, by any means, but it has become so dominant in our culture as to be like the very air we breathe, at least for some. Ownership has come to possess us as the only worthwhile aspect of anything and everything. If looked at from this perspective, all our present ethical and social conundrums clarify, from taxes to fashion, gun ownership to healthcare, voting rights to marriage, property to opinions, abortion to minimum wage.

What Trump has done for the membership of the SBC that puts them at odds with Beth Moore and seems so perverse to many of us is to reaffirm for them what they feel proprietary about, what they believe they rightfully own, that their claims of possession are legitimate. Beth Moore does not, for them, have a right to be shocked and repulsed by Trump because she is not an owner. They are. To put it as bluntly as possible, while perhaps most of them are dismayed and censorious about Trump’s pussy-grabbing, it remains a fact for them that the pussy is there for him to grab. His grabbing it makes it his, because the woman does not own it. Women’s sexuality is not theirs.

Beth Moore does not even have a right to her own voice—they have tried to take that away from her—but only has use of it because it serves the self-presumed owners.

Absurd? When you look back at the history of personal rights over the centuries, one thing becomes clear—it always revolves around some formulation of ownership. As the franchise expanded, those opposed railed against it out of a sense of privilege, that they are losing something which they act as if they owned. What we are seeing right now across the country is exactly that—people trying to limit voting rights, reduce them, take them away from those they see as a threat. (Because the consequences of such expanded voting might impinge on other things that self-styled elites are theirs.) Many reasons are given, but the presumption that such restrictions are even considered is based on a notion of proprietary civic ownership that goes back centuries.

Plato discussed communal space, where everyone in a polis “owned” things in common. Aristotle thought this was a bad idea since in his view (to simplify) common ownership like that would dis-incentivize care, that without the added encouragement of private ownership, no one would feel obligated to preserve, maintain, or build. Aristotle was the one “good pagan” that the Catholic Church used to build its own social ethics and so this idea came into the mainstream of thought through the dominant religions of the modern era. Plato and Aristotle approved of limited forms of democracy, but felt that not everyone was suited to participate equally and Aristotle made no bones about believing only elite males had a natural right to ownership, which meant the ability to participate in the politics of the polis. Hence the franchise came down to us from ideas of suitability and because so much history, property, conquest, and nation-building has accrued around these ideas since, it is difficult to tease them apart. They are the air we breathe, as I said.

There has always been a cycle of balances set against this. Simple ability to enforce, the reach of government and church, the situation on the ground at any given place and time—all have made a pure form of this hard to achieve and there has always been some push-back. But we cannot seem to be rid of it. One would have thought that by the Enlightenment, the categorical denials of agency necessary would have fallen by the wayside, and yet…

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696 – 1792) was a major figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, a patron of David Hume and Adam Smith, among others. He, with others, established the Philosophical Society of Scotland. A precursor to the much more influential work of Adam Smith, he was concerned about the importance of property to society. The economics aside, then it came to the franchise, he wrote:

“Those who depend for food on bodily labor, are totally void of taste, of such taste at least as can be of use in the fine arts. This consideration bars the greater part of mankind; and for the remaining part, many by a corrupted taste are unqualified for voting.”

With some allowance for the passage of much history, this would have fit rather well with Aristotle (and even Plato). Specific justifications aside, the idea that it is not only permissible but desirable to exclude certain people from participation is clear.

The rest of the 18th Century, in terms of Enlightenment thinkers, wrestled with questions of nature, merit, innate value. Property emerged as a key concern and with the creation of the United States, the momentum of such concerns barreled on with increasing force until, today, property has become everything.

The United States, however, has an in-built conflict. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are neither one based on such blatant exclusions and form the basis of a tension that has grown along with the self-conception of the country. Property, as it turns out, is only valuable when made exclusive. Politics, however, always intrudes on the uses of property, which brings in the concerns of those excluded. Rights occupy a special space that seem beholden to the ephemeral even as the exercise of Rights inevitably impacts the temporal. Because we have a love-hate relationship with ideas of property that transcend mere material objects, the inextricable dependence of one on the other creates a conception of property that seems to encompass Rights and treats them as a species of Things Which Can Be Owned. My Rights, My Land, My Freedom, My Things, My Self.

The most accessible way to conceive of all this is as property. Which means that when Rights are expanded, some people will see this as an encroachment because it depletes the value of their property. And so, the question at the center of modern conservatism, whether stated explicitly or not (or even acknowledged), is: What can I own? The next question, then, would have to be: how can I maintain the value of what I own?  This becomes the justification to deny ownership to others.

For most people, historically, the goal was autonomy. The freedom to be who you are, unapologetically, without having to justify yourself to authorities. But autonomy—agency—is not the same as ownership. Unlike property, agency should not be—cannot be—a contract or title to the claims of self possession. It must be a given, unbarterable, nonfungible, and universal. The American myth is that here, we have that. In practice, most of us do not. It is traded away every day by the fact that without money—the means of ownership—we have nothing anyone feels obligated to respect.

So alliances are made, groups are formed, coalitions emerge. Churches are ready-made for this, because by joining one the agency we seem unable to possess on our own can be “borrowed” from the cadre. But churches aren’t the only method for becoming something by allying with many. Political parties, certainly, but the principle works with businesses, charitable organizations, clubs, special interests, schools…

All these things, however, exist—here—within a framework that has promised agency.

But that’s a slippery idea to pin down. It’s the thing implicit in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in the enumeration of rights to be kept free of outside (government) interference (or any other), like speech, freedom of worship, privacy, assembly, legal redress, and equal access to public determination. Agency. Rather than that, we have come to regard ownership as primary, as established throughout our history by repeated referral to property as a qualification for common regard. As time marched on, the meaning of the franchise expanded, and in each expansion the issue has been centered on ownership. In the beginning, only property owners could vote. While not so explicit today, there is still a property qualification (permanent address).

In the advance toward a universal franchise, those opposed to the expansion have insisted on more and more qualifications—amounting to proof of ownership—to bear on the people they wish to exclude. After 250 years (here) of this, we have come to a point where almost everything has been, in some sense, transformed into a commodity.

Things that can be owned can be controlled.

How does this relate to the Religious Right’s support of Trump and their censure of Beth Moore?

Trump is all about ownership. His “brand” is everything. He is admired (by some) for having things. Having things is the hallmark of success in this country. Not “who you are” but “what you have” matters more to most people, because the former requires a sense of Self that is neither publicly evident or reliably fixed (people change).  (Also, who you are may be terrifying to other people, so it is easier to reduce the Self to a set of traits that you “have”—implying that you can trade them in, get new ones, swap them out, or just put them away.) Success at Having Things is understandable, accessible, universalizable. It also validates for others the presumed right to have things.

Trump is popular among certain groups because he does just that—he validates their view of what it means to be an American, which is entirely wrapped up in Having Things.

One of the things he “has” is the prerogative to deny agency to those he sees as inferiors or, at least, unworthy of consideration.

For evangelicals this includes many of the kinds of people of whom they disapprove. While Trump’s “manner” may offend their sensibilities, they do not find fault with his presumptions. In the case of the “pussygrabbing” it comes down to the fact that the pussies he is grabbing are attached to “fallen” women. After all, their wives would never be in a position to be so treated, because they are not “that kind” of woman. They know better than to put their pussies in such circumstances.

I phrase it that way because below all this, the reality for these men is that their wives’ pussies belong to them. Because this is a factor of our culture that underlies much of our disconnect over women’s rights and equity. For them, women don’t “own” their sexuality. They carry it around until a man claims it. Which is why so much of the anxiety and anger over gender equality remains a muddle for certain people.

And Beth Moore? She had the temerity to express the idea that Trump’s pussygrabbing was in all cases immoral, obscene, and deserving of censure. But she can only make that charge if women are their own persons, whole and worthy of regard as free agents.

And agency is the one thing evangelicals cannot grant outside the confining circle of their faith, which is a club of limited membership, very exclusive, and cannot admit to any kind of baseline equality. Doing so would require they change their message on so many fronts and accord respect to people and persons they a priori consider beyond the pale. Unredeemed. Damned.

Just the fact that Beth Moore has for all these years been disallowed from holding an equal position within her chosen conference demonstrates that the principle of ownership is in force to deny her agency, because she cannot own what her colleagues already claim for themselves. They see it as their prerogative to grant status and people outside their selective regard have no right to claim anything for themselves.

Consider their stance toward transgender persons: this is a threat to their purview because it is individuals taking possession of their Selves and claiming agency. That they would have to know that Self intimately enough to move beyond the reach of simple possession is a denial of the message of “salvation” through superior agency (Christ). And, on a more basic level, it frightens because gender orientation is one of those things that is “owned” and often regarded as a separate thing to be scorned (denial of the flesh). That it is fundamental to identity creates too many confusions and contradictions for the smooth apprehension of a theological proposition which is supposed to be Otherworldly.

But in practice it comes down to an ownership issue.

Consider an example outside of questions of Self. The rejection of government economic support for the poor. This would seem paradoxical. If the point is to alleviate poverty, what does it matter where the aide comes from?  But it matters if you consider the dispensation of that aid proprietary. They see it as charity and according to their own philosophy, charity comes from the heart. Governments render this moot, because it becomes a matter of economic systems. There is no “charity”—hence no Good Works, no affirmation of moral mission, no opportunity to demonstrate one’s christianity. Charity has become a wholly-owned trademark of religious expression and no one should take it away, least of all systems that might render the matter solved.

Beth Moore ran afoul of an unexamined aspect of American culture as expressed through a religious lens. Trump may be an immoral, foul, odious being, but he affirmed for them the basic right of ownership of so many issues, and hence condemning him and withdrawing support was not possible. It might have played out a little differently had a man in Beth Moore’s position done what she did, but it still would have intruded on the majority’s presumptive rights of ownership—in this case, the ownership of male privilege.

On an even more perverse level, Trump was also the proof of government corruption—he fit their idea of what the government already was. If the end game was to destroy the beast, why not support the one who best exemplifies everything they claim to hate? Putting a good man (or woman—unthinkable!) in that office would seem perverse, because what could a good man accomplish? It would only delay the advent of freedom from what they see as secular attempts at creating a baseline equality that denies their “right” to judge.

And here it generates endlessly stranger ideas of what may have been going on.

But Beth Moore turned on the juggernaut and was trampled by the unstated assumptions of the inner circle. That evangelicals can show a history of their own indulging in all the things she condemned Trump for doing ought to have been a signal that she misunderstood just what she was dealing with.

Agency, as I assume it here, is something beyond ownership. But it’s personal, and it’s malleable, and it is uncontained by convention. It actually cannot be owned, so it becomes necessary to prevent its manifestation.

I do not here claim everyone is so ensconced in this morass of what I’ve termed Pathological Ownership—but then it never requires many people to subscribe to an idea to have an impact on how the culture responds. Because we have a rather nebulous set of alternate models, the idea of Having Things being a substitute rather than an expression of Self can distort all out of proportion to the numbers involved. It helps if we know what it is we’re talking about, identify the issue at hand, instead of stumbling on assuming a different set of values at play.

Just about everything in the divisive cultural and politic mess we’ve experienced for the last few decades can be explained by this idea. The GOP won’t cooperate with the Democrats? Why? Because they seek to own the issues. If they cooperate, then they must share, and sharing is the road to ruin, because no one can own what is shared. The moment you share something it is no longer exclusively yours,.

Too many people just want to own everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Triptych

I like series photographs. A set of images, either telling a story or simply variations on a theme. I haven’t done many, but here’s one I think worth a look. I took these in the early Eighties, somewhere in the country. (I am horrible at documenting my visual work, the where when who why and how of things. Oh, well.)  Anyway, maybe someone will find them compelling enough, either singly or as a set, to hang on their wall.

Each is linked to the gallery.

Playing With Images

So it snowed here. I took some photographs. Today, a bit bored, I did some fiddling.  So, here’s one result.  I hope you like it.

 

Winter On Your Wall

One of the images that came of our recent Polar Vortex Event. I’m rather pleased with this one. I like abstracts that are clearly Something. Anyway, click on the image and it will take you to the gallery, and if you’re so inclined, you may hang it on your wall.  (Especially you folks in Florida who seem to have “weathered” this all in fine form.)

Two Views

It snowed. For a photographer, this is an opportunity to make images that will literally vanish if not made at once. Long ago, this was the only reason I looked forward to snow, which is otherwise, for me, a major inconvenience.  (As long as I can sit in my warm house, with a hot cup of coffee, and just gaze out at it, I’m fine. If I have to go anywhere…well.)

But I did make some photographs this time, just around the house, which fortuitously offers quite a few settings for interesting images.

I am a lover of good black & white, but I confess that color has enamored me more and more since my last lab job and I was forced to learn color printing. I hated it, actually—the chemistry is more toxic than b&w ever was and the fey unpredictables of color filtration frustrated me no end, but I got reasonably good at it, and I learned to appreciate it.  Since going digital, I like its possibilities even more.  But black & white is my first love.

It’s hard to decide, though.  Some things self-evidently declare themselves for one or the other, but often it’s too close to call. So I offer two versions of a recent photograph and leave it to you to judge. Which do you like better?

 

 

 

Brag

It’s two days past Valentine’s Day. There’s a blanket of snow on the ground and I’m at home with my best friend. I wanted to take a little time to brag about her.

I met Donna in 1979 (correction, I am informed it was January of ’80), started seeing her in 1980, moved in with her by the beginning of 1981, and we’ve been together since.  She is, simply, my best friend.

Of all the things she has done for me, the one that mattered most was that she simply accepted me.  For who I was (whatever that may have been at any given moment) and supported me in anything I wanted to do.  When she discovered that I wrote, she read what I had done and encouraged me to pursue it. That led, of course, to everything since. I wonder sometimes had we known how difficult it would have been, would we have done it. The writing, that is.

But it would not have mattered to her, not much. If I had really wanted to, she would have done what she could to help.

And help she did. I have friends, but I do not think I’ve ever known one so limitless.

For a time, I still thought I might pursue the photography.  We actually did the ground work to open a new lab once.  But the more the writing took hold, the less interest I had in that, even though I was good at it and when it came to Day Jobs, it was one that supported us for almost 30 years.

I’ve written about her before, but I wanted to say more this time. We’re coming up on 41 years. To be honest, it took me a while—longer than it did her—to realize what we had, to come to the conclusion that she was the One. I’d been through a very bad break-up and I was gun-shy, tender in spots, and unwilling to either hurt or be hurt again, so I was, perhaps, too cautious.

She waited. And every year since, I’ve had cause to be grateful.

We’ve lived in three places. She had her own apartment first, and I moved in with her. (When I told my parents, dad’s reaction was “It’s about time.” They knew before I did how important she was.) Then we found an apartment on Grand Avenue, where we solidified, partied, laughed, made plans. It was from that apartment that I went to Clarion in 1988.  Six weeks away, the longest we’ve ever been apart.

We took each other for granted. Both of us, with the other. Any relationship that lasts any length of time will have that about it. In a way, the fact that you can do that is a testament to how much trust—unspoken trust—you have with each other. But we always realized it and compensated and renewed what we had.

If this begins to sound unreal, forgive me. Some things, when reduced to words, do seem improbable, unlikely, too good to be true, pretentious.  I can’t help that. It is easier to make tragedy and pain convincing sometimes more than joy. More difficult is to make contentment and safety sound either convincing or compelling, but that is a failure of the language and the culture in which we live, one that prizes shock over calm, at least when it comes to what entertains us.

So we celebrated another Valentine’s Day together, our 40th.  I think she still loves me. Always best to check. In any event, she’s here.  She is my home.  It is one of my motivations to make her proud of me, to make her feel safe with me, to make her laugh, to help her.  We are very different when it comes to talents and proclivities. (It is best we clean house and so forth apart from each other.)

This lockdown has been a struggle. In some ways, we’ve had to find new strategies to not get on each others’ nerves. As time passes, it wears. But then, it occurred to me recently that we haven’t had too much trouble with that.  We’re…comfortable…with each other.

There’s not a lot of activity in the going out department. We have movies. I’ve taken up reading aloud to her, so we share a book simultaneously.  It’s a pleasure.  But boy, when the worst of this passes, there are places I want to take her.  She is a private person and doesn’t like to show off, but I like to let people know how special she is.

I have always found her incredibly sexy.

So here I wanted to brag. I have a partner, a companion, a sweetheart, a lover like nobody else. Remove her and you lobotomize me. If I am anything in this life, it is because she found something and breathed life into it and said “Hey, you should do this.”

My parents recently celebrated their 67th anniversary.  They had known each other a year or so before marrying, so let’s say almost 69 years for them. I like the idea of spending another 28 years with Donna. It will not be dull.

We travel well together and have been many places and will be many more places. It is a journey I relish. Even the strange new worlds of imagination have given us many places to visit together.  (We started going to science fiction conventions in 1982. We even tried out costuming a short—very short—while.)

I’m rambling. I’m feeling nostalgic. For the past, certainly. I like the idea of Quantum Leap, being able to dip in and out of our timeline at various points. I’m trying to think if there’s anything I would change. Minor stuff, to be sure. Regret is part and parcel of engagement, if for no other reason than you can’t do everything you want to do, no matter how little sleep you get.

So I’ll wrap this up now. I’ll leave a couple more pictures below. I appreciate your attention.

I hope you all have found or will find your lifelong valentine.

 

Have a good life.

 

 

 

 

Picture For A Sunday Afternoon

When I was a kid there used to be a number of “movie” shows on television. We had three major networks and a couple of local independent “affiliates.” Paltry choices compared to today, and yet there always seemed to be plenty to watch. As older films became available to lease by networks, these shows proliferated. The Three O’Clock Movie during the work week, then later some prime-time selections, but I always remembered the Picture For A Sunday Afternoon as my favorite.

It was nostalgic, even then. And kind of arty. We saw a lot of films that didn’t have much to do with Oscar winners or things like that.  And it was all in glorious black-and-white, because we didn’t have a color set. Even if we had, most of these films were from the Forties and Fifties and were shot in black-n-white.

I have always loved black & white photography. I even have a slight preference for pen-and-ink and charcoal drawings. The one time I had a conversation with the late Kelly Freas, he and I both geeked out on the superiority of black & white illustration.

Empty Thunder

In the aftermath of the Civil War (once also called the War of the Rebellion), many people were certainly concerned, uncertain, and baffled about the future. The purpose of the war had been the preservation of the Union. That statement, that explanation, however, contains within it manifold intentions and issues with which we evidently struggle to this day.

Chief among them being the question, Union of What?

Lee’s surrender at Appomattox gave a formality to the end of the war which was deceptive. Hostilities raged on in various places for years. Look at any war and it is obvious that formal declarations of surrender, victory, etc, are only that—declarations. State intentions. Conflagration continues in the aftermath, small conflicts, what we call brushfire wars, go on over unresolved questions of territory, national identity, ideology, all to some extent driven by the refusal to acknowledge that it is over.

If we look at the events of this past January 6th and take them as evidence of a civil war, then it might be legitimate to say that the successful inauguration of Joe Biden marks the formal end of that war, and it would be about as true as any other such declaration. It might be well for us to examine all the elements of that event to see where it might lead.

Firstly, is there a Civil War?

Let’s look at the prior one and see how it compares.

Our Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery.  (Issue number one, among many “issue number ones” this time, is the accuracy of that claim. Despite the wishes of naysayers, it is indisputable that the secession movements of the 1860s were centered on that one issue. They said so themselves. The desire to claim otherwise in recent years is one of the hallmarks of our current difficulties and in a significant way the reason the current movement lacks any credibility.)  Dress it up any way you like, slavery was the issue. I can say this regardless of claims to the contrary even without the written proof by the hands of the secessionists by a simple formula. States Rights is the less odious claim. But States Rights to do what? To be a state? That right already existed and was not under threat. The drive to secede must therefore have been spurred by a sense of threat to a perceived right that was at issue. The “state right” under threat was the right to hold human beings in chattel bondage. Period. That was the defining issue for those states, that they claimed the right to maintain the one institution that they saw as essential to their very identity, i.e. slavery. 

All through the Trans-Atlantic Slave period, there were people arguing that slavery was immoral, inhumane, and ultimately despicable, so it was not that they didn’t know any better, it was only that those practicing it believed in their own self-interest more. Inasmuch as we regard this as at least in some part a class issue, the assumed superiority of the slaveholders is demonstrable across social lines. If they could have found a way to enslave the poor of any ethnic group, they would have (and in many ways did). The racist aspect becomes evident when the clearly-stated and institutionally pernicious differences between the various forms of bondage are examined.

How does this relate to the present?

That desire for self-superiority has never been fully dealt with and drives most if not all of the current politics informing those who participated in the insurrection on January 6th.

What the states that formed the Confederacy possessed that the present agglomeration of socially and economically disaffected reactionaries lack was a concrete set of conditions over which to separate themselves from the Union. Concrete but ultimate insupportable. Slavery as an economic system had limits, and was reaching them. The only thing that would have allowed the South to maintain the system in any economically sustainable way was expansion and that was severely threatened politically by the actions of the North. Even without that, the South was in many ways trying to maintain a dying system that could not be sustained either environmentally, morally, or economically. At some point it would have become clear that the slaveholders would not have been able to afford to maintain the system. The returns were already trending in that direction, hence the urgency in expansion. They were on the long road to bankruptcy. Outlawing slavery outright would have brought that about much sooner. 

By comparison, what do the present crop of the disaffected have to fear?

Going down a list of issues, few have the kind of concreteness faced by the antebellum elite. And yet, there is a similarity that is tragic in much the same way.

The casualties (on both sides) of the Civil War fell most heavily upon the poor. Men drafted into service to fight for a cause of which they had no real stake. The average Confederate soldier did not and never would own a slave. 

In the same way, the people in Washington D.C. who invaded the Capitol are not and never will be independently wealthy.

And yet in both instances they were coopted into fighting for those whose ranks they could never join—in both instances, the rich.

Before going into that, though, consider the issues presently fueling this movement. Most of them are entirely fabricated. QAnon is entirely nonsense, and yet it has dangerous momentum. The libertarian aspirations on display are at most distractions. The protests against LGBTQ rights are informed by the worst kind of misapplied identity tropes. Abortion is the one issue with any real traction and even it is projected in opposition to secularism and questions of gender equality which on their face require one to ignore so many ancillary realities as to be little more than antiquated prudery dressed up as a moral crisis.

These are all wedge issues, existing for only one purpose—to divide people into camps that can then be manipulated into fighting each other. Reasonable solutions are available to answer differences of opinion, but they are cast as betrayals to some kind of fundamental morality and undermines American Exceptionalism.

The tagline for the movement gives it away. Make America Great Again.

That begs so many questions.

Now, this is the kind of thing that seems to annoy the reactionary the most, the request for definition. They know what they mean, and see your inability to understand what they mean as a sign that you are part of the problem. That you would ask the question automatically defines you as their opponent in a struggle for the unquestioned emergence of the wonderfulness they support. It should, it seems, “go without saying.”

It must be asked, though—what good is anything that cannot be said? And is the lack of definition just a mask for that which has no reality?

Greatness, however one defines it, is only legitimate as an emergent property. If it is a set goal, with predefined shape and expectations, it is both unachievable and illegitimate.

Those who seem to be Trump’s loudest and most energetic supporters seem not to understand this. They seem to regard Greatness as a prize to be won, a condition with evident benefits that can be bought, a state of being understood by the adulation it commands. This is clear in Trump’s case by any casual look at the produce of his life—if it looks great, that’s enough, never mind what substance it contains. He is, above all, a promoter, and the promoter never has to produce, he only has to sell. The “promotion” comes into play when what is being sold is not quite what it is claimed to be.

Consider: the insurrectionists invaded the precincts of the Capitol. They invaded, they took the halls, the floors, had run of the building. They rushed in there believing they were about to achieve their goals. And then what? They acted like children. They wandered around, they collected trophies, they took selfies. 

They had no plan.

What if they had captured some congresspeople? Some were clearly prepared to arrest those they had been told are the source of their disaffection. What then?

What demands might these people have made? And on whose behalf?

Many are now lamenting how they had been misled. They blame Trump, certainly, but that misses the point, which is that had they not prepared themselves to be misled, he would never have been able to draw them in. They were there because they wanted to be.

But wanted to be for what?

Among the various signs on display, a variety of bigotries were evident. Antisemitism. Ethnic exclusiveness. Libertarian protestations. QAnon messaging. As one digs through the morass of ideological motives, it moves from ancient hatreds to contemporary fantasy. A melange of distortions, absurdities, and petty insecurities. It is not difficult to find ample information to debunk and delegitimize each and every position. But it has all found common ground among people who would rather attack the institutions defined for them as their enemy than consider reexamining the bases of their disaffection.

One woman recently charged by the FBI posted about her intention to find Speaker Pelossi and “shoot her in the friggin’ brain.” This is evidence of a profound disconnect with any reasonable picture of reality. 

Again, though, the question must be asked—over what?

So far, no one has been found with any after-takeover plans. Nothing has been revealed about the intended replacement of current institutions with something different. Given that the complaints about the government have become surreal and that of the people who chose to go to Washington and who participated in the insurrection, an answer to this question is a bit more than academic. The stated intention to abduct representatives (not only federal but state officials), in some cases kill them, in every case render the government as it is unable to function requires an explanation. And at some point at least an idea what would take the place of what would be destroyed.

Instead, we see the fire and fury and no plan. No intention to govern in place of. No one stepping up to the plate with a set of ideas on what to do instead of what has been done. 

Largely, this is because we have a method, a plan, a set of procedures here to put forward changes. It’s called an election and representative democracy. The insurrectionists seem unable to make that work for them. Essentially, because they cannot get what they want, they feel the entire system is a failure and should be burned down.

But what it is they want, other than not to have to deal with what is? 

If this were only a problem of a rabble it might not be such a problem. But in fact, the Party that presumably represents them the most—the GOP—exhibits the same frustrating condition. They block, they oppose, they condemn, the filibuster, they deny, they appoint judges, challenge legislation, and except for one tax cut after another, they do not put forward substantive plans as a Party to replace what they clearly seek to tear down. So the model is there, writ large, for the rabble to follow. Just tear it all down and the “right thing” the thing that will “Make America Great Again” will simply emerge.

For decades now we have been subjected to an erosion of public trust and a decimation of public programs fueled by the antagonistic politics fomented by people who are increasing their market share by virtue of the violence and division created with the intent to destroy. It was learned long ago that chaos can, in some instances, allow profit-taking at an elevated rate. Greater prosperity across the board can be created only in periods of greater unity and cultural amity, but that is neither fast nor easily funneled into the narrow channels that currently feed the so-called 1%. We have been led to places where it seems the only rational response to change and to people different from us is exclusion, intolerance, hatred, and rebellion.

The pot boiled over. We have just been through a battle of the current Civil War. 

And for what?

As odious as the institutions the Confederacy sought to defend were, they were substantive. There was something to them. They needed to go, but the battle was not over fantasies and mirages.

This current battle is over…

“I don’t want to.”

There is a petulance about it all that, despite the intensity of violent imagery and posturing and the cacophony of belligerent rejection, cannot be denied or ignored. Anti-maskers trying to make their refusal to cover their mouths and nose for the sake of public health into a First Amendment issue, which it is not. Anti-vaxxers trying to elevate folklore, self-entitlement, and ignorance to the level of responsible citizenship, which it is not. Anti-immigrant sentiment couched as “border security” rather than what it is, bigotry and the tribal howl of fear of the outsider. Anti-tax sentiment that somehow assumes that taxation is the chief impediment to an economy that will allow greater prosperity, which it is not. Anti-safety net, pretending to be a principled stand against “socialism” rather than a species of political resentment toward people believed to be receiving aid “unfairly,” which is really just class envy and fear of losing privilege.

Petulance. We have a civil war going on over petulance.

There is no plan because any plan can only be another version of the same set of systemic resentments that are presumably the current problem.

All thunder and no rain.

For those who understand this, those who for a long time have been tolerating the lies, the targeted destruction, the flouting of all standards of evidence, and the assumption that all opinions are of equal validity, it is perhaps time to stop allowing the space for it. Nonsense is nonsense and the more it is allowed to go unchecked, unchallenged, and unaddressed, the harder it will be to find solid ground when we need to come together.

There will be no secession this time because there is no Lost Cause at the heart of this. There are only the Lost. The problem is, they are armed and they are angry and they believe that as long as they can shout reason and reality down, then they are right.

Now that Trump is off the playing field, they are milling about and feeling betrayed. All they had to give them focus was him. A blowhard who played them for the benefit of his brand. 

His entire legal team has just quit on him. There is nothing left for them to make any bank on. It is a hollow cause, devoid of substance, and yet of such density that it will suck those still in attendance down into a mire to drown. 

The question now is not, what did they actually think they were going to do? but rather, what are we going to do with them now? Millions of people, many of them the likes of Representatives Greene and Boebert, believe in substanceless conspiracies, false theories of government, and the apparent right of people to separate themselves from everything in order to live according to standards that are only supportable within a community, the very kind of community they reject, are among those believing in…

Well, that’s the problem. Believing in what?

We have four years to figure this out before it all comes back to try this nonsense again.

Old (New) Image

I’m getting acquainted with the new scanner and having to learn its tricks. File size being one of them.  But.

There are some images a photographer goes back to again and again, trying it one more time, reinterpreting, finding a new or better way of bringing it out.  This is one such.  From New Mexico

Enjoy.

 

 

 

We Have Toys

Finally, after two trips into the wilds of computer land, I have my new scanner, all set up and ready to go. Below it my first scanned image.

 

I will get better at this, once I learn the various buttons on the new ‘chine. This is an old image, a 4 X 5 negative. To my pleasant amazement, the detail is still astounding in these things.

So in the space of a week, I have the ability now to once more make use of my (huge) library of negatives (only 50 + years of photography), and I have sold a new story—a novella, no less—to Analog. Not a bad start of a year that could have turned out a lot worse.