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General Discussion / Book Note: The Admirable Crichton by J.M. Barrie
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on February 18, 2018, 07:28:50 PM »


THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON: a play in four acts by J.M. Barrie (1902)

I read this play as part of a monthly play-reading group organized by my friend Walter Uhrman.  It’s a satire on the English class system.  When it first came out, it was both popular and critically acclaimed.

In the first act. Lord Loam, a Liberal member of Parliament who believes in human equality (eventually, but not soon) puts on a monthly show in which his aristocratic family and friends act as servants to the Loam family servants.

This makes everyone uncomfortable, including the servants and especially the butler, Crichton, who believes that the law or nature ordains that some are born to command and others are born to serve.

In the second act, the main characters in the first act are shipwrecked on a tropical island—Lord Loam, his three daughters, a worthless young Oxford graduate, a well-meaning clergyman, plus Crichton and a servant girl.

Crichton emerges as the natural leader, simply by perceiving what needs to be done and doing it.  The eldest daughter, the haughty and beautiful Lady Mary, perceives what is going on and tries to preserve rank and hierarchy, but in vain.

The third act is two years later, with Crichton as lord and master of the island, according to the law of nature. The former aristocrats flourish in their role of servants.  Their greatest desire is to please their “Gov”; they take on the mannerisms of the English servant class.
Lady Mary, who in her former life merely sat around being beautiful and scorning would-be suiters, exults in her new role as huntress.  She feels honored as Crichton invites her to be his consort.

In the fourth act, the characters have been rescued and are back in England, trying to forget everything that has happened to them.  This includes Lady Mary, who resumes her engagement with the dim-witted Lord Brocklehurtx, and Crichton, who resumes his role as butter—but in the last few minutes of the play announces his intention to find employment other than as a servant.

I enjoyed the play.  It’s still funny.  Much of the human is visual, and it must be even funnier when it is performed rather than just read.

For what it’s worth, I agree with the moral of the play, even if Barrie may have been writing partly tongue-in-cheek.  Some individuals are natural leaders, but that is not pre-determined by social class, inherited wealth, formal schooling, race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, gender or any other external characteristic.

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General Discussion / Book Note: The Wisdom of Frugality by Emrys Westacott
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on February 18, 2018, 07:23:07 PM »
THE WISDOM OF FRUGALITY: Why Less Is More—More or Less by Emrys Westacott (2016)

   Back in the 1990s, when I was still working as a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to write a feature article on people who had embraced “voluntary simplicity” as a way of life.

   I thought that, given the state of the local economy then, there might be larger numbers of people who were experiencing involuntary simplicity.

   I had the same thought when I listened to an excellent talk by Emrys Westacott last November as part of the annual UNESCO World Philosophy Day lectures at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester, N.Y., and later read his book.
   
He pointed out that the great majority of philosophers in both the Western and Eastern traditions endorse frugality as a way of life.
   
Be content with what you have, they say; don’t expect happiness from material goods. Instead you should seek simplicity, or self-sufficiency, or purity, or closeness to nature.
   
There’s a difference between a frugal person, and a poor person.  Frugal people live the way they do out of choice.  Poor people may or may not be have a worse material standard of living than frugal people, but they are worse off in either case because they are forced to make sacrifices they didn't choose.
   
Philosophers have had different reasons for advocating frugality, not all of them compatible with each other.
   
Benjamin Franklin said thrift is necessary to get ahead in life.  Henry Thoreau said caring about stuff separates you from nature.  Epicurus said that the less you think you need, the happier you can be.  The ancient Spartans said needing a lot of stuff makes you weak.   Jesus of Nazareth said you should not seek riches, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven. The Buddha said something similar.
   
Westacott, with great clarity, examined these arguments, and more, and also the counter-arguments.
   
Aristotle, for example, rejected frugality as an ideal.  He said that one one of the virtues, or excellences, was “magnificence”—living up to your means. In his philosophy, a rich person should not live like Ebenezer Scrooge. The rich person should sponsor plays, contribute to public buildings and give parties with good food and drink.
   
We owe many good things to the ideal of magnificence, Westacott noted.  The world could have gotten along all right without a Taj Mahal, a Sistine Chapel or an Apollo space program, but he is glad these things exist, and so do I.
   
Another philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, believed in “living dangerously.” In his own case, that meant living dangerously in the realm of ideas. He lived an austere life on a limited income.
   
But he spoke for many people who reject the idea of minimizing  wants. Some try to live a life rich in experiences, whatever the cost. Some pursue a dream or a goal, such as starting a business or performing as an actor or musician. Some devote themselves to a religious, social or political cause, regardless of cost or risk.
   
I think that just as a frugal person is different from a poor person, an adventurous person or a “magnificent” person is different from an extravagant person.
   
It is one thing to choose to spend money on something that is important to you. It is one thing to choose to risk poverty or failure for something that is important to you.  It is another to spend your money, and also your time and attention, on things that aren’t necessary, don’t make you happy or even may be bad for you just because you lack the will and discernment to choose.
   
I don’t think of myself as an extravagant person, and I am not a “magnificent” or adventurous person, but I would be unhappy without electricity, a flush toilet, central heating, running water, telephone service and many other things that previous generations lived quite happily without.
   
Electric power, telephone and water and sewerage systems would not have come into being if the mass of people hadn’t been unhappy with things as they are.
   
Westacott pointed out that our capitalist system requires ever-expanding wants and needs in order to function. If everybody suddenly embraced frugality, there would be an economic recession.
   
After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush told Americans not to fear to go shopping. This sounded odd, but his advice reflected economic reality.   Spending as usual was necessary to keep the economy going.
   
The unresolved contradiction in the economic system is that the system requires producers who follow the advice of Ben Franklin to save money, work hard and plan for the future, but it also consumers who follow the advice of advertisers to spend their money, enjoy life and live in the present.
   
Unfortunately there are limits to how much the masses of Americans can spend because median incomes have been stagnant or falling for the past few decades. That is because almost all the economic gains due to increased productivity have flowed to the upper 1 percent of income earners.
   
Political and economic reform could stop the upward redistribution of income and restore the mass consumer market. But there is no political end economic reform that can stave off climate change, exhaustion of fossil fuels, exhaustion of other natural resources or population growth (in the short term).
   
That means the younger generation, and generations to come, will be forced to choose between voluntary frugality and involuntary poverty.   I think many would benefit from Westacott's book.
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General Discussion / The disease that killed Russell's mother and sister
« Last post by Laurie E. Thomas on February 17, 2018, 01:50:22 PM »
Bertrand Russell's mother and sister died of diphtheria. Here's an explanation of diphtheria from one of my Web sites.
http://www.nomeasles.com/diphtheria/


At the beginning of the 20th century, diphtheria was one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. But thanks to vaccination, it is now extremely rare. Yet if vaccination rates drop, as they did in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, diphtheria can make a comeback. Even with the best of modern medical care (antitoxin and antibiotics, etc.), diphtheria has a case-fatality rate of 5% to 10% https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5253a3.htm.

There is no animal reservoir of Corynebacterium diphtheriae. So theoretically, we could drive diphtheria into extinction through vaccination of the human population. Unfortunately, the diphtheria vaccine does not produce lifelong immunity. Also, some people can have a carrier state, sometimes in the respiratory tract and sometimes in skin lesions. So we will continue to need booster shots against diphtheria for the time being. The vaccine against diphtheria is built into the TDaP vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis). So if you get your tetanus booster, you will also get a diphtheria booster at the same time. 

By the way, here's Russell's opinion on vaccination, from The Impact of Science on Society:
Quote
Science has already conferred an immense boon on mankind by the growth of medicine. In the eighteenth century people expected most of their children to die before they were grown up. Improvement began at the beginning of the nineteenth century, chiefly owing to vaccination. It has continued ever since and is still continuing. In 1920 the infant mortality in England and Wales. was 80 per thousand, in 1948 it was 34 per thousand. The general death rate in 1948 (10·8) was the lowest ever recorded up to that date.

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General Discussion / Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on February 01, 2018, 10:44:24 AM »


THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by Daniel Kahneman (2011)

 
Most thinking goes on below the level of the conscious, reasoning mind.   It couldn't be otherwise.   Human beings couldn't function if they had to think out the reasons for every action.

The philosopher John Dewey said human actions are determined by impulse, habit and reason.  Our habits control our impulses.   It is only when neither our impulses nor our established habits get us what we want that we start reasoning.  This is how things are.



An experimental psychologist named Daniel Kahneman has devoted his life to studying how this works.   In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), he summarized what he and other psychologists have discovered about the interplay of intuition and reason in decision-making.

What's noteworthy about the book is that it is based on real science.  Every assertion in it is backed up by a study, many of them by Kahneman himself and his friend,  the late Amos Tversky.

Our default mode of thinking is what Kahneman calls "fast thinking," or System 1.  It consists of the mental processes that enabled our prehistoric ancestors to react quickly, and to survive.   It is the human mind's default state.

"Slow thinking", or System 2, is the override system, comparable to taking conscious control of your breathing.   It requires continuous concentration and effort.  Doing it is hard work.  Some are better at it than  others, but few people can sustain it for long.

System 1 consists of pattern recognition.  The human mind is constantly monitoring the present state of things and matching it with previous experiences and impressions.

This works well for people with long experience of doing similar things, and receiving immediate feedback.    If a firefighter in a burning building or an anesthesiologist in an operating room says something doesn't seem right, you'd better heed them, because their intuition is grounded in long experience of burning buildings and operating rooms.  Over time, chess players, performing artists and emergency room nurses develop reliable intuition.

The problem is that intuition will give you an answer whether there is any basis for it or not.   Political pundits, stock market analysts and clinical psychologists typically have poor records of predicting results, but this seldom affects their self-confidence.

Human beings would be paralyzed if we had to think of logical reasons for every decision and exercise conscious control over every action.   We need intuition.  But intuition can mislead us.  Kahneman's book is about ways this happens.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is an extremely rich book.  Almost every chapter could be expanded into a self-help book, while some could be textbooks on negotiations, advertising and propaganda.

I've had a hard time getting started on writing about the book, maybe just because there is so much in it.   I've given up on trying to give an overview.  I will just hit a few highlights in the hope that I can spark interest in reading it.

One problem with intuitive thinking is the planning illusion.   Those who plan projects typically try to factor in everything they can foresee that is likely to go wrong.   It is predictable that they can't foresee everything that can go wrong.  That's why home remodeling contractors and military suppliers make most of their money on change orders.

Kahneman, who grew up in Israel, once talked the Israeli Ministry of Education into commissioning a high school textbook on judgment and decision-making.  He assembled a team, did some preliminary work, and then questioned Seymour, his curriculum expert.

What was the failure rate of people who wrote textbooks from scratch?  Answer: About 40 percent.   Question: How long did it take the others to complete their work?  Answer: Six to ten years.  Question:  Are we better than the other teams?  Answer: No, but we're not that bad.

Nevertheless, he let the team go ahead.   The textbook took about eight years to complete, and by that time, the Israeli government had lost interest.

The lesson is that, if you are planning a project, you should look at the success rate of those who have attempted similar projects.   Then you should use that as a reference group and determine what makes your project different from the others.

Most entrepreneurs don't do this, Kahneman said.  This is probably good for society, because the public benefits from their effort, while the entrepreneurs and their backers absorb the loss.   But if you're an entrepreneur yourself, you're better off looking before you leap.

Overconfidence is based on what Kahneman calls the WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) syndrome.   As a young Israeli military officer, Kahneman once had the task of setting up an interview system to determine the fitness of recruits for different branches of military service.  Interviews were then conducted by women soldiers who made recommendations based on their personal judgment.  The results were little better than random.

Kahneman drew up a questionnaire, based on factual factors relevant to such characteristics as responsibility, sociability and masculine pride.  These included number of jobs held, work history, participation in sports and so on.   He asked the interviewers to rate the recruits on these individual factors, without regard to the overall recommendation, and then he used this to give a weighted score.

But when they balked at this, he added another step—to shut their eyes and imagine how well the recruit would do in the military.   The conclusions based on the questionnaire were imperfect, but better than the previous subjective evaluations.  Surprisingly, so was the "shut your eyes" judgment, maybe because the intuition included actual information.

In general, Kahneman said, decisions based on checklists and algorithms have a better track record than decisions based on personal judgment.   Simple checklists and algorithms work better than complex formulas.

(I have to say I have reservations about checklists and algorithms.  They are only as good as the people drawing them up.   The "garbage in, garbage out" principle applies, as does Goodhart's Law.)



Most human beings are loss averse.  They'd rather have the certainty of a small gain than an uncertain chance to make a big gain.  But on the other hand, if faced with a loss, they'd risk a bigger loss to avoid it.

The average person, according to Kahneman, would only risk a loss of $100 if he had an equal chance of winning $200.

This makes people vulnerable to framing effects.   You can get people to make different decisions based on the same facts, depending on whether you framed the decision as seeking a gain or risking a loss.



For example, test subjects were asked what they'd do if they were given $1,000, then offered a choice between a sure gain of an added $500 and a 50/50 chance of getting either $1,000 more or nothing.  Most chose the $500.

Other test subjects were asked what they'd do if they were given $2,000, and then offered a choice between a sure loss of $500 or a 50/50 chance of losing either $1,000 or nothing.  Most chose the gamble.

Both sets of choices are the same—just framed differently.   The framing determines the response.

Credit card companies understand this.  In some states, when stores charge different prices depending on whether you buy with cash or credit cards, they're required by law to say it is a "cash discount," not a "credit card surcharge."   People are more willing to pass up a cash discount than to pay a credit card surcharge, even though the only difference is the words.

The subconscious, intuitive mind can be swayed by anchoring on irrelevant facts and impressions.  We're at risk of being intentionally primed to think certain ways without our knowing it.

When Barack Obama was thinking about running for President, his supporters wrote many words trying to dispel the misconception that Obama was a Muslim.   But the more they tried to this belief, the more it persisted.   People forgot the argument, and just remembered, subconsciously, the words "Obama" and "Muslim".

Obama supporters instead started writing about Obama's Christian beliefs and his church attendance.   That helped—although it also called attention to the inflammatory sermons of Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The "Obama-Muslim" link is an example of how unconscious anchors shape our thinking without us realizing it, and of not only how we mislead ourselves, but leave ourselves open to manipulation by others.

This fits in with the writings of research psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his 2011 best-seller, Thinking Fast and Slow, and elsewhere.  He says human beings are more inclined to rely on intuition (fast thinking), which operates between the level of consciousness, than on conscious reasoning (slow thinking).

The most disturbing part of the book is how others can intentionally manipulate us by priming our intuitive minds without our realizing it.

Vance Packard wrote about this possibility in The Hidden Persuaders in 1957.   Facebook in 2012 ran an experiment to see if it could change its clients' moods by manipulating its news feed.

In the 2016 election, Facebook worked with the Donald Trump campaign, as it routinely works with advertisers, to micro-target voters based on information they've left on social media.   Facebook would have provided the same service to the Clinton campaign, but they didn't ask.

A company called Cambridge Analytica claimed to have used artificial intelligence to create individual psychological profiles on 220 million registered American voters, and to have used this to support the Trump presidential campaign.  Cambridge Analytica also supported the British campaign to leave the European Union.

None of this is mind control.  People with firm opinions are not likely to change their minds based on subliminal or targeted messages.   The aim is to increase sales of a certain product or votes for a certain candidate by a few percentage points.

But to the degree that mind manipulation is possible, the advertisers and propagandists are going to get better at it.   That's cause for concern.

∞∞∞

Here are examples from Thinking, Fast and Slow on how anchors prime our minds in certain ways without our realizing it.

>Voting on an Arizona school bond issue were more favorable in polling places actually located in schools than elsewhere.  People shown images of classrooms and school lockers also were more favorable than those who weren't.  This difference was greater than the average difference between parents of school children and the rest of the public.

>University staff members contributed more to an "honesty box" when there was a poster of eyes looking at them than when the poster only showed flowers.

>Experienced real estate agents gave a higher appraisal to a property when the asking price was high than when it was low, even though they claimed to not be influence by the asking price.
                         
>Experimental psychologists gave one of two word-association tests to groups of students.  One of the tests primed students with words such as Florida, forgetful, bald, grey or wrinkle, associated with the elderly.  Students who took that test, although not consciously thinking about old age, walked more slowly to another test location down the hall than students who took the other test.

>Students who were told to walk more slowly than normal were quicker afterwards to pick up on words associated with the elderly, although they hadn't been consciously thinking about the elderly

>In an experiment, students in one group were told to hold pencils in their mouths by the eraser end, with the point sticking out, which sort-of simulates smiling, while another group were told to hold pencils in their months sideways, which sort-of simulates frowning.  The smilers found a set of Far Side cartoons funnier than the frowners did.  The frowners had a stronger reaction to pictures of starving children and accident victims.

>People who were primed with images of money became (1) more independent, (2) more persevering, (3) less helpful and (4) less sociable.

>People who were primed with images of death became more receptive to authoritarian ideas.

>People who were told to think about stabbing a co-worker in the back were more likely afterwards to buy soap, disinfectant or detergent than batteries juice or candy.  If you feel your soul is stained, you are more likely to clean your body.  Psychologists call this the Lady Macbeth effect.

>A study of parole judges in Israel showed they were more likely to give decisions favorable to the prisoner right after they had eaten.

Again, this not mind control.   It doesn't necessarily work on any particular individual.  If you understand priming and anchoring, you can put yourself on guard.

The danger would be when that when you are caught unawares—when you receive some message over the Internet or otherwise that you accept as genuine, and it really is in the service of some propagandist you don't know about.

.
Daniel Kahneman, although a psychologist, won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2002.  That shouldn't be surprising, because economics is a sub-set of psychology.  Economics is the study of decision-making, because on the hypothesis that human action is determined by incentives, especially material incentives.  A section of Thinking, Fast and Slow, is devoted to showing why that isn't always so.

He and his friend and collaborator, the late Amos Tversky, were true scientists.  Every assertion in this book is backed up by a study of experiment, many conducted by Kahneman and Tversky.   The appendix includes two of their most important scientific papers.

The business journalist Michael Lewis has written a book, The Undoing Project, about their collaboration, which I haven't read, but I'm pretty sure is good.

I have a version of this review, with links and illustrations, in two parts on my web log.

https://philebersole.wordpresscom/2018/01/29/why-rational-decisions-are-so-difficult-and-so-rare/

https://philebersole.wordpress.com/2018/01/30/how-minds-can-be-primed-without-our-knowing-it/

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Need Help? Learn More about the Forum Here / Re: Registering
« Last post by Dennis Darland on January 18, 2018, 02:19:06 AM »
The information Kris provided below is useful. The Bertrand Russell Forum requires membership to be registered. This allows you to post messages, as well as other things. Shortly after the Treasurer processes a membership, he notifies some others of the new membership, by email. One of those (currently me) adds you to the Forum. However, we found that unless we required the new member to activate the account, they would not receive their password. So we require the new member to activate their account. This is done by clicking a link in the email they receive with their username (simply their name). To log in they use either that username or email address along with the password. They can reset their password if it is lost by clicking on "login" above the username & password fields. Then below the box for Username & Password that appears, click "Forgot your password?"  Also you may change your password - see Kris' post on "Profile." Also, we do not delete registrations quickly after year end. We have not noticed abuses of that.

Dennis
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General Discussion / Re: Neutral Monism
« Last post by Jonathan Westphal on January 15, 2018, 10:04:04 AM »
Thanks Michael. I do have genuine difficulty with the idea that a "neutral" item cannot in principle be fitted into the physical series - even if it isn't because for internal reasons as you might say it doesn't fit in. But the idea that in principle you can't fit it in because it "rejects" spatial interactions seems to undermine its neutrality. But perhaps that is an answer. You are trying to fit this neutral item, understood neither mentally nor physically, into the physical series, and it won't go, and the fact that it won't accept a spatial predicate is a reason like any other. So it won't accept say "mass" but it will accept "accelerates" (a Mach example), or it won't accept "has a physical location" but it will accept "appears in the visual field". Where I have more difficulty to breaking point is with the idea that we should just graft the identity theory or property dualism on top of neutral monism to fix the problem. That seems pointless in addition to contradictory, as well as raising any inherent problems the property dualism might have.
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General Discussion / Perk's Op Ed on Need to strengthen, not weaken, the UN
« Last post by Raymond Perkins on December 31, 2017, 01:10:53 PM »
Hi All,

I wanted to share my recent op ed piece of yesterday (Dec. 30) in my local (Concord NH) newspaper. I don't explicitly mention Russell, but I'm sure we'd be on the same side on this. As most of us know BR was convinced, as was Einstein, especially after the advent of nuclear weapons, that humankind would likely destroy itself unless nuclear weapons and war itself could be abolished--something that would require an international federation that could make law, adjudicate international disputes, and keep the peace. Russell knew and said that the post-1945 UN wasn't up to that unless it under went radical repairs. My suggestions in the piece linked below, are for strengthening the UN and moving, with U.S. cooperation, toward that end. See:

http://www.concordmonitor.com/World-needs-a-stronger-UN-14591951    (And please scroll down at the end to see some comments and replies.)

Happy New Year, and let's hope (and work) for a more peaceful world in 2018

Ray Perkins, Jr.
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General Discussion / Trump and Nuke First-Use
« Last post by Raymond Perkins on November 26, 2017, 12:29:41 PM »


I'd like to share with all (BRS members and non-members alike) my recent _Concord Monitor_ (NH) piece on the Nov. 14 US Senate Foreign Relations Committee's historic hearings on presidential authority for the first use of nuclear weapons. (Also please read my response to a critical reader below below the piece. And please feel free to share with others.)
    http://www.concordmonitor.com/Nuclear-first-strike-hearing-13826313

Since the hearing I've been pleased to see considerable media attention concerning further commentary on the safety (and Constitutionality) of such final authority solely in the hands of one person. See the AP piece below
which includes commentary by Bruce Blair former missile launch officer and head of The Center for Defense Information, and current co-founder of Global Zero (an international organization comprised of 300 world leaders
advocating a 4-phase plan for global nuclear abolition by 2030).
    http://www.therepublic.com/2017/11/19/us-nuclear-war-saying-no/

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General Discussion / Book Note: Martin Luther King's Gospel of Freedom (updated)
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on November 01, 2017, 11:34:53 AM »
Today the Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a revered figure who is criticized by virtually no-one. We forget how radical, controversial and even hated he was during his lifetime.

Liberal white people in the North approved of his non-violent struggle in the South, because they regarded the South as like a foreign country, like South Africa.

It was a different matter when he started campaigning in segregated neighborhoods in Chicago, when he applied his message of peace and nonviolence to the Vietnam War, or when he started to question the justice of the whole American economic system.

He lived with constant fear of being killed, many of his comrades were killed and he himself was killed in the end—in a conspiracy which has never been fully investigated.

Yet he and his followers brought about fundamental changes that had been thought to be impossible.

Few if any social or political movements have accomplished so much good with so little harm.

Dr. King’s philosophy was outlined in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote while in prison in April, 1963, It was aimed at two sets of readers:
• Moderates, most, but not all of them, white, who thought he was pushing too hard and too fast, and wanted him to go slower.
• Militants, most, but not all of them, black, who thought his belief in love and nonviolence was weak, and wanted him to strike harder

My friend Richmond Dyes did a presentation on “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for the Rochester Russell Forum on Oct. 12, which prompted me to read Jonathan Rieder’s GOSPEL OF FREEDOM: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation (2013), a report on the background and context of the Letter and an analysis of its text.

It was written in response to eight prominent white Alabama clergymen, including six Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew, who had written a public letter entitled “A Call for Unity”.

They condemned Dr. King’s protests and lawbreaking, and called on “both our white and Negro citizens to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

The eight had been part of a group of 11 clergyman who seven months before signed “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” that urged obedience to court decisions that ordered desegregation. For this they had received death threats, and no doubt thought of themselves as the good guys in this struggle.

Dr. King attacked the false equivalence of black people struggling nonviolently for justice and equality, and white racists engaging in murder and terrorism to perpetuate oppression.

Members of the Birmingham Ku Klux Klan, on a whim, castrated a random black pedestrian, Edward Aarons, and then told him to send a message to the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, leader of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, that the same was in short for him.

The Klansman who was charged with attacking Aarons was pardoned by Gov. George Wallace.

Another civil rights leader, the Rev. Charles Billings, was kidnaped, blindfolded, beaten with chains, tied to a tree and branded with the letters KKK.

Klansmen attacked the black singer, Nat “King” Cole, when he was giving a concert to a segregated all-white audience.\

Nor was the Klan a marginal group. Bull Connor, the commissioner of public safety for Birmingham, was in contact with the Klan. Asa Earl Carter, a Klan leader in Birmingham, was speechwriter for Gov. Wallace.

The Klansman who was charged with attacking Aarons was pardoned by Wallace.

And Wallace was an important national political figure. He ran for president in the Democratic primary in 1964, winning nearly 30 percent of the vote in Indiana, a third in Wisconsin and 40 percent in Maryland. He carried five Southern states as a third-party candidate in 1968 and five states, including Florida and Michigan, in the Democratic primary in 1972.

Among those who were urging Dr. King to go slow were John and Robert Kennedy. Liberal Republicans Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits were then more forthright supporters of Dr. King than the Kennedys, although the Kennedys views changed over time.

Rieder wrote that Dr. King was protective of his movement’s pubic image in the eyes of white liberals. Yet, Rieder said, he and his followers had little confidence in white people in general, which is why they praised such whites as sincerely embraced their cause.

Dr. King never said, “God damn America,” like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But he thought that the United States was only potentially, but not yet actually, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

His faith was based on the Bible—the message of justice of the Hebrew prophets combined with Jesus’ teaching of love and peace.

Rieder obtained rare audiotapes of Dr. King’s preaching in black churches, which showed the power of his Christian message to his Christian audience.

Leaders of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam called his message and tactics weak. Yet Dr. King was able to bend governors and presidents to his will, which his supposedly militant critics were never able to do.

The only black militant who was equal in stature to Dr. King was Malcolm X, and Malcolm X was struck down before he reached his full potential—also in a conspiracy that was never fully investigated.

Like Dr. King, Malcolm X was still evolving in his thinking when he was killed, and there’s no telling what he might have done. But the fact is that he spent his life mainly in conflict with other black people, while Dr. King was changing the world.

Rieder told how the Rev. James Bevel went into “the dives” to talk to tough young black men who ridiculed non-violence. He’d asked them, “How many people have you killed? How many white boys have you beaten up?” Then he’d call them cowards. Then he’d tell them how to fight effectively.

Soon after Dr. King was released from prison, his followers organized what Rieder called the “children’s crusade”—mass demonstrations by students, including young school children. King had misgivings about sending children into danger, but did not veto it.

Newspaper and TV pictures of children being attacked with high-velocity fire hoses, powerful enough to strip bark from trees, and by police dogs changed public opinion.

It affected President Kennedy. His speech on June 11 for the first time defined civil rights as a moral issue—not just as a duty to obey court decisions whether you agree with them or not, but as a moral issue.  It’s still a moral issue.

If Dr. King had a rival, it wasn't another black leader.  It was the anonymous black rioters in large American cities from 1964 through 1972.   I don't approve of vandalism, arson and looting as a vehicle for social change.   The victims are seldom if ever the ones who are the cause of the problem.

But it is a fact that the urban riots brought about a response by political and business leaders .   Here in Rochester, N.Y., it is a fact that the urban riots of 1964 made the local political and business establishment take notice of the community's black minority—with the help of Saul Alinsky, who used non-violent tactics, but did not advocate Christian love.

Without the riots, it would have been many more years before Eastman Kodak Co. and other large employers started hiring black people for non-menial jobs.

You could argue that Dr. King would not have been so effective if the potential for violence had not been in the background.   But the argument can be turned around.   The goodwill that made a positive response possible in places such as Rochester would not have existed except for Dr. King.

 
10
General Discussion / Book Notes: Stories of Past and Future
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on November 01, 2017, 11:11:19 AM »
LAMENTATION: a Shardlake novel by C.J. Sansom (2014)

This is the sixth of a series of detective novels, set in 16th century England..   

In 1546, the protagonist, the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake, is tasked with recovering a confessional essay, Lamentation of a Sinner, by Henry VIII’s devout Protestant sixth wife, Queen Catherine Parr.

It has mysteriously disappeared from the Queen’s bedroom, and the only clue is the title page, found clutched in the hand of a murdered London printer.

Henry VIII is dying, and Protestants, Catholics and factions within the Anglican church are jockeying to be in positions of power after he dies.  The Queen’s Lamentation could be used by any faction to justify themselves or embarrass the monarchy—in either case, putting her and her supporters in peril.

Like the other novels in the series, Lamentation is a good mystery novel and a good historical novel.  I followed Shardlake and his friends as they followed clues toward an apparent solution, then was surprised as the truth was revealed at the end.

Sansom does a good job of bringing the era to life, not just the sights and sounds of 1546 London, but what it was like to live in an era in which beliefs about religious doctrine could get you tortured and killed.

I am grateful to Donna Morrison-Reed for suggesting this series.

AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST by Iain Pears (1998)

This is one of the most engrossing and memorable novels I’ve read in a long time, maybe years.  The word “fingerpost” was used by Francis Bacon to mean an indicator of the truth.

Like C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake novels, it is a mystery story set in the past—in this case, England in 1663, a few years after King Charles II has been restored to his throne following the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.

Like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy, it is a portrait of an age when the wars of religion were fading away and the age of science was just beginning.   Characters include Robert Boyle, the founder of the science of chemistry; the philosopher John Locke; and John Thurloe, chief of espionage under Oliver Cromwell, who has made his peace with King Charles II.

Sansom’s novels were interesting and enjoyable, and Stephenson’s even more so.  Iain Pears’ novel has all these merits to a higher degree.   Pears is a much more erudite scholar and much better able to get into the mindset of an earlier era.

The science, not to mention the religion, politics, customs and daily lives, of that age were very different from today’s.  More than any of Sansom’s or Stephenson’s books, Iain Pears’ The Instance of the Fingerpost shows the alienness of that past world..

It’s a world in which men think they have a right and duty to beat women, children and servants to keep them obedient.  It is a world in which a traveler who is out of sorts stops by a barbershop for “a bleed” and a scholar explains why the existence of unicorns is scientific fact, but the existence of fire-breathing dragons is not.

There are two interlocking mysteries.  One is the poisoning of an Oxrford don, which is blamed on a servant girl, Sarah Blundy.   The other is the nature and whereabouts of a bundle of documents incriminating high-level government figures.

The story is told through four narrators—at least one of which is lying and one of which is psychotic.
• A visiting Venetian scholar, who is experimenting with the radical technique of blood transfusion.
• A young nobleman, who is trying to clear his father’s name of the guilt of treason.
• An Oxford don, cryptographer and espionage agent, who is trying to foil a plot against the throne.
• A naive but honest young scholar, who is trying to save Sarah Blundy.

Like C.J. Sansom, Iain Pears provides clues so that readers more astute than I am could have figured out the solutions to the mysteries before he reveals them.

What makes An Instance of the Fingerpost most memorable is his portrait of the extraordinary young woman Sarah Blundy.   Pears’ depiction of her character and fate touched my heart.  I will remember this for years.

URINETOWN by Greg Kotts and Mark Hollman (1998, 2001)


I read this highly enjoyable musical comedy as part of a play-reading group organized by my friend Walter Uhrman. 

The joyous music is like one of the great Broadway hits, and the cynical witty lyrics are worthy of a Bertolt Bracht.  The combination is what makes the play so good.

Greg Kotts got the idea for the musical after being stuck in Paris, where all the toilets are pay toilets, and trying to stretch a limited income to meet his needs.
Urinetown is set in a future in which a private firm, the Urine Good Company, monopolizes access to toilets, and urinating in public is punishable by death.

The public rises up, overthrows the regime and makes the right to pee a basic human right—only to bring on ecological disaster.

As with many writings, enjoyment of the play requires not looking too hard at the underlying message—in this case, that privatization is the only way to conserve natural resources.

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Philip K. Dick (1968)


This strange novel was the inspiration for the 1982 move “Blade Runner.”  I re-read it prior to going to see “Blade Runner 2049.”

It is set in the year 2021, following the destruction of most of the human race and also most livestock and wildlife by means of ever-present radioactive dust. which was released during World War Terminus.

The physical, governmental and corporate infrastructure remain, but cities such as San Francisco are like ghost towns, with giant apartment buildings inhabited by only a few squatters.

The few surviving animals are much prized as pets and status symbols, but bounty hunter Rick Deckard is only able to afford an electric sheep.  HIs ambition is to earn enough in bounties to make a down payment on a live goat.

Much of the human race has emigrated to Mars, but emigrants must pass IQ tests and guarantee their sperm or eggs are undamaged by radiation, which is why many men wear lead codpieces.

The Rosen Corporation, which has operations in the USA, the USSR and Mars, builds androids, which resemble human beings but live only a few years.  Their defining characteristic is supposedly lack of empathy.

Six rogue androids are loose in the San Francisco area, including impersonators of a Soviet Russian police official, a German opera singer and an American police chief.  We follow Deckard in his search, and also the outcast J.M. Isidore who befriends the three other androids out of loneliness.

Deckard and his wife Iran have “mood organs,” which they can set to control their moods when at home and within range of the devices.  When he leaves for work at the opening of the novel, he sets his wife’s mood to “pleased acknowledgment of her husband’s superior wisdom,” but as soon as he leaves she changes the setting to “clinical depression.”

One element of the story is a religious cult called Mercerism, whose followers achieve shared consciousness through use of “empathy boxes”.  Mercerism’s ambiguous motto is, “Only kill the killers.” 

Another is an addictive and continuously running TV news and talk show called Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends, whose performers and guests appear to have no existence outside the show itself.

I give Dick credit for originality and for his ability to evoke alienation and paranoia,   For all that, I wasn’t particularly interested in his characters or their stories.   Enjoyment of science fiction or fantasy requires, as has been said, a willing suspension of disbelief.  I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief of this story.

 
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