Category Archives: riptides

Humility and Virtue

We have recently finished a novel that in time will be considered a rare American masterpiece: Barkskins. In graceful prose that expresses what must be expressed and nothing more, Annie Proulx — whose work we have long admired here at DP — chronicles the violent eradication of the  boreal/acadian forest in North America, together with the eradication of the people who lived in harmony within those ancient woods. Through the richly detailed lives of dozens of characters, Proulx conveys the heavy personal and cultural price exacted by that most vicious counterpoint, between ecocide and genocide.

The novel begins with two epigraphs, the second of which is taken from an essay by the historian Lynn White, dated 1967: The Historical Roots of the Ecological Crisis. We were curious about the context for her selected passage (which is highlighted below in bold italics). The fact that the essay reads like it might have been written yesterday prompts us to post two long excerpts, though it is certainly worth close consideration in its entirety. The image (added by DP) is relayed from the studio of Peter Randall-Page.

 

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BLOOD TREE

BLOOD TREE

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For the curious, the first epigraph for Barkskins descends from George Santayana:

Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together. 


Resistance and Recuperation

On May 27th, an American president will finally set foot in Hiroshima, though Nagasaki is apparently not on the itinerary.

Mr. Obama, whose relative rhetorical fluency – relative to grunted Bush-blubber and the greeting card drivel of Bill Clinton – masks moral and philosophical emptiness, will not issue an apology for the incineration and radiation of large, concentrated civilian populations. In the words of his Orwellian-designated National Security Advisor for Strategic Communi-cations & Speechwriting, Ben Rhodes: “He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future.” 

Such refusal to acknowledge past atrocity resonates with Obama’s earlier decision to decline the prosecution of war criminals within the Bush administration, even after the emergence of overwhelming documentary evidence. On April 16, 2009, he stated:

“This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.”

Severing the past from the future resides at the very heart of American exceptionalism; since the future of the Shining City is eternally full of promise, who cares what happened in the past? With this in mind, we turn to political philosopher Fred Dallmayr, writing in his lucid forward for a wide-ranging collection of essays titled Philosophy After Hiroshima.

The images are borrowed from The Sensory War 1914-2014, an exhibition presented last year at the Manchester Art Gallery.

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Whatever happens in Hiroshima on May 27th, we are sure that Mr. Obama will not enlist memory in the service of resistance and recuperation, just as we are sure that the Shining City of our ongoing delusion has nothing to do with “the divine abode”.

In the end, his mission will be one of vanity, self-aggrandizement and deceit, as the commander of the “kill chain” burnishes his preferred image as A Man of Peace during the fading days of a failed presidency.


Let Us Wake Up

CONSCIENCE-SHAKER AND RIVER GUARDIAN, BERTA CÁCERES

CONSCIENCE-SHAKER AND RIVER GUARDIAN,              BERTA CÁCERES

We write today with sadness and outrage at the brutal murder of Honduran indigenous and environmental activist, in her own home.

A leading organizer for indigenous land rights in Honduras, Cáceres co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH. For many years, the group has faced violent reprisals for the brave and unflinching defense of their land and rivers against corporate and governmental incursion and exploitation.

Last year, Cáceres won a Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. Below her acceptance speech; in a few carefully chosen and deeply felt words, she articulates the single most urgent issue of our time, and how we must respond.

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Zenith of Cruelty

Last Friday saw the release of Alfred Woodfox from the infamous Angola penitentiary, after serving four decades in solitary confinement. Here is Woodfox’s former fellow inmate Walter Rideau, writing in an essay for Mother Jones magazine: “Having spent 12 years like that, I’ll tell you: Life in the vacuum of a cell is spirit-killing, mind-altering, and the zenith in human cruelty. That Woodfox and others like him have survived their experience mentally and emotionally intact is nothing short of miraculous because an isolation cell is designed to break you.”

Lisa Guenther, summarizing her excellent book Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, expands on how this breakage unfolds. The images are from a special exhibition sponsored by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, exploring the relationship between architecture and human rights.

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Way back in 1842, after a visit to the panopticon-penitentiary in Philadelphia, Charles Dickens took note of the silent cruelty inflicted upon inmates inside the regime of total isolation, and its ghastly signs and tokens:

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Though the prison itself may be in ruins, the ideas that it once so perfectly expressed within architectural space remain very much alive. The evidence of severe psychological damage is overwhelming; not acting in the fact of such evidence raises the question as to whether our grotesque regime of incarceration actually applauds such devastation to the mind and soul as a job well done.

We leave the last words to Albert Woodfox: “You go through this psychological self-analysis and then you start talking to yourself, telling yourself that you are strong enough. Just trying to push these walls back and the ceiling back with the force of mind.”

 

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A FORMER PLACE OF SECRET PUNISHMENT


The Slaughterhouse Sensorium

With Lori Gruen’s proposal for “entangled empathy” still fresh in our minds, we turn to the way humans actually “treat” other sentient beings, through their violent transformation into consumer-ready meat.

In Every Twelve Seconds, anthropologist Timothy Pachirat provides an unflinching, meticulously detailed account of his experience working inside a slaughterhouse; we are passing the book from hand to hand here at DP, and urge your close consideration.

For now, we provide a few brief excerpts from Pachirat’s interview with the honorable blogger James McWilliams, author of other essential books about our treatment of animals, such as A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America.

The images are from a manual of recommended practices for the processing of meat, as endorsed by Temple Grandin. On to the testimony of Pachirat, in response to questions from McWilliams:

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More information on the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is available here; a visit, highly recommended. Also recommended, a brief visit to a previous DP bearing on the map of 2012, Wrestling With Modernity.


A Toxic Inversion

We note the death of Sheldon Wolin at the age of 93, a political philosopher and theorist with deep insight into the disappearance of the constitutional republic into the shadowlands of corporate kleptocracy.

Below, excerpts from a typically lucid essay dating from way back in 2003; every word rings even more truly today, above all his critical focus on the sycophantic media and the alignment of universities with corporate interests, both of which are central to the grim civic passivity that characterizes life under inverted totalitarianism.

The images are from Tomas Van Houtryve’s chilling series, Blue Sky Days.

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Ethical Loneliness

Now comes Haverford College philosopher Jill Stauffer with her important new book, Ethical Loneliness. The subtitle reveals the subject of her enquiry: the injustice of not being heard.

The image for the book jacket is Die Witwe I, from Käthe Kollwitz’s series of woodcuts, Krieg. Below, we offer excerpts from a recent interview with Stauffer, together with other Kollwitz images.

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WOMAN WITH A DEAD CHILD, 1903

WOMAN WITH A DEAD CHILD, 1903

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THE PARENTS, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery, Vladslo (Belgium), 1932

THE PARENTS, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery, Vladslo (Belgium), 1932

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CALL OF DEATH, 1934

CALL OF DEATH, 1934

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THE WEAVER'S REVOLT

THE WEAVER’S REVOLT


Learned Helplessness

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Since the early days of DP, we have proposed that the network of black sites and detention facilities assembled under the cover of the War on Terror must be understood in all its multiple identities: as punitive incarceration, obviously; as a pedagogy, with the rest of the world as student body; and as a behavioral lab, with detainees as the lab rats. The last of these is particularly troubling for those who think that the Shining City retains any moral authority whatsoever; how to reconcile practices reminiscent of the likes of Josef Mengele with the supreme righteousness of American exceptionalism?

Now it seems that on the same day Barack Obama was reminding the United Nations of the indispensable virtues of the American Way, lawyers for the ACLU were putting the final touches on a lawsuit filed on behalf of three victims of the psycho-behavioral lab, a suit that singles out two clinical psychologists — James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen — yet with legal implications that may eventually work their way considerably up the chain of command, all the way to the Oval Office.

As the legal brief concisely summarizes, Mitchell and Jessen took a theory developed by Martin Seligman with reference to the behavior of dogs when subjected to electric shock, and repackaged it as a theoretical framework for the administration of a regime of torture. We understand that Dr. Seligman would prefer to be known as the father of the “Just Be Happy” school of positive psychology, and not as the midwife of enhanced interrogation. A PDF of his key study is available for scrutiny here; we publish a few excepts below. The images are drawings from the hand of one of the victims, Mohamed Ben Soud.

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Below, an excellent video summarizing the cruel excesses of the torture laboratory, elements of which (such as forced feedings) continue into the present:

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Let us hope that Mitchell and Jessen, whose consulting firm was paid $81,000,000 from the coffers of American taxpayers, are held accountable for their complicity in such abuse, with the three named plaintiffs duly compensated for their suffering. Though the actions of those further up the food chain are still obscured by the fog machine of national security, this lawsuit represents a promising first step towards justice.


Detainee 239

Now comes Guantanamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, who has been officially cleared for release since 2007, given the absence of any evidence whatsoever for his involvement in terrorism. Though he has recently been told that his long-awaited return to the UK is now imminent, he remains uncertain of his fate. In an edited transcript of a telephone conversation with his attorney, Aamer provides the following update:

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What possible rational could there be for such abusive treatment, days before his departure? Once more details emerge from the punishment-lab known as Gitmo through the testimony of victims such as Aamer and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the utter collapse of US moral authority will be complete, and will likely take many generations to rebuild.


Lebensraum and Genocide

As various European governments qualify and constrain their earlier enthusiastic embrace of refugees from Syria and elsewhere among the disintegrating states of the Middle East, we take note of the ongoing debate within Germany regarding recognition of genocidal atrocities committed in Namibia during the years 1904-1908. In that dark chapter of the Kaiser’s Second Reich, the latent violence conveyed by the German idea of “Lebensraum” — violence which would later explode into World War II during the Third Reich — first found at least seventy-five thousand victims among the Herero and Nama people.

Namibians have held an annual event to commemorate the genocide since 1932; yet Germany remained stubbornly silent until 2004, when Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul issued the following apology:

“I want to acknowledge the violence inflicted on your ancestors by the German colonial powers, particularly the Herero and the Nama. The atrocities, the murders, the crimes committed at that time are today termed genocide and General Lothar von Trotta would be prosecuted and convicted and rightly so. In the words of the Lord’s Prayer, I ask you to forgive us our trespasses and our guilt.”

During the period of extermination, German eugenics “pioneer” Eugen Fischer requested that skulls and other body parts be collected from the concentration camps at Windhoek and Shark Island be sent to Berlin; while most such trophy-specimens were used for research into the bone structure of racial hierarchy, any items considered surplus to scientific requirements were sold as collectors’ items for display throughout Europe. In 2011, twenty skulls were returned to Namibia, representing a tiny fraction of Fischer’s harvest. Since then, there have been a number of subsequent returns from museums and universities. though still outside of any official national policy.

For an incisive summary of the history, we turn to the following essay by correspondent Jon Swan, with captioned images added by DP:

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CATTLE CARS

HERERO PRISONERS  IN CATTLE CARS: EN ROUTE TO A FINAL SOLUTION

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EUGEN FISCHER'S AFRICAN STUDIES

EUGEN FISCHER’S AFRICAN STUDIES IN SEARCH OF RACIAL SUPREMACY

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SHARK ISLAND: LOGISTICAL SCHEMATIC FOR EXTERMINATION

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POSTCARD FROM SHARK ISLAND

A POSTCARD FROM SHARK ISLAND