The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)
By: Kevin Kelly
Narrated by George Newbern
Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).
Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die.
Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government. This is a Libertarian dream. What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.
Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.
Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances. Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening.
In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.
The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.
He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent. His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.
The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared. Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others.
Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.
Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way. Each has their own view of the world and their place in it.
There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.
Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.
Decentralization of culture by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kelly suggests. The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences.
Louise Erdrich (Author, National Book Award winner plus other honorifics.)
(Louise Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Erdrich’s parents, a Chippewa mother and German father, taught at the “Bureau of Indian Affairs” in Wahpeton. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and her husband was the director of “Native American Studies” at Dartmouth.)
Like Ellison’s “…Invisible Man”, Louise Erdrich offers “The Night Watchman” to show how invisible native Indians are in America.
The headline in the 1/4/21 “New York Times” National page is “Indian Country Loses a Hospital at a Crucial Moment–Tribe Members Feel Abandoned as the U.S. Turns a New Mexico Facility Into a Clinic”–today’s example of Indian invisibility.
“The Night Watchman” is not Erdrich’s first attempt at explaining Indian’ invisibility. She also wrote the best seller “The Round House”. Both reveal the ignorance and unfairness of Indian reservation life and American government attempts to subsume Indian culture.
Erdrich notes “The Night Watchman” is a true story with names changed to hide American political shamefulness and abhorrent treatment of a young Indian woman. On the one hand, her story may be distorted because of truth written as fiction. On the other, Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds reader/listeners of American power’s treatment of Indian people.
Erdrich offers a distinctive picture of Indian reservation life and reminds one of American power’s ill treatment of Indian people.
America’s history of violating contractual agreements with Indian tribes is well documented. A part of Erdrich’s story shows how those contractual agreements are broken.
(This is a photo copy of a Senate Agreement with Crow Indians for Sale of Their Reservation in Montana-1891)
An elected official submits a bill to a state legislature suggesting native Indians have achieved equality before the law and that they have become Americans who should not be restricted to reservations (a euphemism for break-up of Indian culture and land confiscation). The submitted bill gives no value to the tradition and history of Indian culture. The bill might offer compensation to a tribe for the taking of the land, but at an unspecified price.
The people of the reservation are legally notified of the prospective legislative bill. People on the reservation are offered a public hearing to discuss the bill.
There is no offer of financial help for traveling to the hearing or for legal defense of Indian contractual rights to the reservation land.
In Erdrich’s story, effort to organize and pay for travel and legal expense is left to reservation people who have no money to spare. What money they have is to survive, to have a roof over their head, and food on the table.
“The Night Watchman” is a story of big government against “invisible” Indians.
The bill is created by a Mormon legislator in the state whose family settled in the area in the 19th century. He argues reservation land was a temporary holding until Indians were integrated into American culture. The legislator reasons the day for full integration into American culture had come. He reasoned job availability, education, and welfare of tribal populations had reached the same level available to all Americans. It is the same lie offered to women and minorities in the history of the world.
Erdrich’s story begins with vignettes of Indian life on the reservation. This is somewhat confusing but gains momentum as her characters are fully developed. The night watchman is an Indian named Thomas Wahhashk. He works off the reservation at an industrial plant.
Patrice Paranteau is an Indian who works at the same plant as Thomas. She has a sister named Vera who has left the reservation to live in the city. Vera disappears. Patrice goes to the city to find Vera but only finds Vera’s baby who appears abandoned.
The disappearance of Vera is one of the drivers of Erdrich’s story. What happens to Vera is unconscionable. She is kidnapped and held in a ship’s hold to be abused by its sailors.
There is a burgeoning love story threaded into Erdrich’s story that reflects the striving of an Patrice to become an equal partner in life. Patrice chooses her own path to become an independent woman in a world defined by government and men.
Erdrich’s story reminds one of Ellison’s invisible Black who identifies with a personal culture while wanting to be treated as an equal in American culture.
Minorities do not wish to lose their identity but to be equal participants in a wider culture. It should not be difficult to be a Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, or other American and enjoy the benefits of democracy’s freedom.
Erdrich combines the theme of cultural identity with a story of human relationship, hardship, success, and failure. Erdrich offers a glimpse of our hard it is to be an Indian in a culture dominated by a largely white American culture.
Erdrich, like Ellison, shows how multiculturalism is denied by a country that purports to believe in equality of opportunity for all.
Like Ellison pictures what it is like to be Black in America, Erdrich shows what it is like to be Indian in America.
Ann Petry (1908-1997, American author and journalist.)
This was Ann Petry’s first novel. It was published in 1946. It was renewed in 1947, republished in 1958, 1988, 1985–now rendered by Audiobooks in 2013. Petry became the first African-American woman to sell more than 1,000,000 copies. Petry offers a vivid picture of a Black woman’s experience in America.
Petry pictures Harlem as a poor family’s neighborhood where a rich white man dominates lives of a largely Black American ghetto. This is not today’s Harlem, but it is a precursor to what plagues 21st century America.
East Harlem in the 1940 s.
Petry’s story is of a young, extraordinarily beautiful, Black woman driven to live in a Harlem tenement.
Lutie Johnson is separated from her husband and compelled by poverty to rent a squalid room on the top floor of an apartment building. She has a high school education and a minimum wage job that barely supports herself and her young son, Bub. The tenement is owned by a white man who owns the building and a nearby casino.
A Black Madam works for the owner and pimps young women to make a living that enriches the owner of the building while creating income for herself. The tenement has a Black superintendent who lives in the basement and manages the building for the white owner.
Petry tells a story that explains how a decent woman can be driven to commit murder, abandon her child, and perpetuate a family’s poverty.
Petry explains how the roots of a family decay and how that decay fertilizes future generations of poverty-stricken families.
Before Harlem, Lutie works as a maid for a rich white family outside the city. The work pays relatively well but it separates Lutie from her husband because of the growing demands of the white family. Lutie stays at their house for longer periods of time.
Lutie and her husband’s love wither when he cannot find a job. Her husband feels diminished by his inability to support the family. The husband’s idle time leads to an affair that breaks his bond with Lutie and their young son. Lutie leaves, with her son, to start a new life in Harlem.
Lutie does not divorce her husband because of its legal cost. She wonders if she is not the reason for their break-up. It relegates her to legal single-hood if she wishes to marry in the future. She realizes the circumstance of poverty had more to do with there break-up then any other single cause. Her husband’s lack of job prospects, and their separation irreparably damaged their affection for each other.
Petry notes how Lutie grows to despise white people because of presumptions white people make of non-white people. Lutie naturally resents men’s presumption that she is willing to have sex with any white man that asks. Petry notes Lutie’s domestic employer’s condescension when other white people are nearby.
Petry offers a side story of a white teacher in Harlem who treats her students poorly. She has a fear of non-white students.
The students, in turn, ridicule the white teacher for her attitude toward them. It is a mutual distrust based on the color of one’s skin, not the content of their character.
As Lutie reviews her new circumstance, the only job she can find offers barely enough income to afford rent, utilities, and food for the two of them. To compound Lutie’s trouble she is subjected to the leering interests of the building superintendent and the white owner of the building. She refuses their advances but is drawn into a crisis, a crises manufactured by the sexually aroused superintendent.
After unsuccessfully trying to rape Lutie, the superintendent concocts a plan to get back at her by getting her son arrested. Her son is recruited by the superintendent to steal mail from adjacent tenements. He convinces the young boy that the police want his help to find a criminal in the neighborhood. The boy is caught by post office authorities and taken into custody.
Lutie knows nothing about the super’s lie and is faced with the belief that she needs a lawyer to get her son out of juvenile detention. There appears to be no effort by the police to investigate beyond the arrest of Lutie’s son.
Lutie does not have the $200 needed to hire a lawyer. She turns to a Black employee of the white owner. The employee explains that if she is “nice” to the white man (implying she would have sex with the owner) she can get the $200 she needs. She refuses.
The employee, having failed to convince Lutie to be “nice” to his employer, decides and tries to rape her. She murders him out of defense and rage. Lutie has reached her breaking point. She buys a ticket to Chicago, leaving her young son with the State.
“The Street” is a Black woman’s story of the 1940 s, but it is every woman’s story in a culture that discounts equality of opportunity and often treats women as property.
“The Street” shows being a woman diminishes opportunity in America. Ann Petry shows being black in America magnifies that inequality.
Shoshana Zuboff (American author, former Harvard Professor of Business Administration).
Shoshana Zuboff analyzes the evolution of power wielded and enabled by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other media giant’s that invade personal privacy.
In the October 17-18, 2020 WSJ, the headline is Mark Zuckerberg is “Washington’s New Power Broker”. Reporters Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer note that “…Mark Zuckerberg now takes an active role in the platform’s policy decisions–and checks in regularly with officials like Jared Kushner”.
Zuboff’s scholarly examination of American internet mavens concludes “…Surveillance Capitalism” will lead to Orwell’s “1984” or B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”.
Orwell notes in “1984” that invasion of privacy is a way of conditioning human beings to believe in “truths” manufactured by whoever leads. In contrast, B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” argues behavioral observation and reward is a tool for making people live morally “good” and peaceful lives.
The words “truths” and “good” are in quotes because they are determined by what Zuboff calls “the big other”. “The big other” is a knowledge leviathan that knows everything about everyone.
In Orwell’s world, humans will be managed by a totalitarian government. The government monitors all private and public actions of its citizens. These governments have a set of propagandized “truths” that demand and compel obedience. Orwell’s world relies on knowledge of every detail of its citizen’s life. When a citizen’s actions do not conform to government rules, they are psychologically bombarded, and re-programmed to believe.
In Skinner’s world, individual citizens will act as they think they want, as though they have free will. However, operant conditioners (“the big other”) will reward citizens for fulfilling desires of respective employers, vendors, and governments which are holders of private information. These operant conditioners will use personal and private data to offer rewards for “good” behavior. (Zuboff calls these holders of private information “the big other”.)
Orwell and Skinner offer views of a future where privacy no longer exists. Orwell’s view is obviously dystopian. Skinner’s view is utopian, hiding in the skin of dystopia. Zuboff explains how either future is conceivable in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. Her conclusion finds both futures reprehensible and possibly inevitable.
“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” exposes America and the world to the greatest economic and social change since the industrial revolution. In “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” every human action is catalogued, distributed, and utilized by entities interested in influencing human’ thought and action.
“The big other” is enabled by media giants to seduce the public into buying technical products that are connected to the world wide web. Products, like Nest, Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Quick Books, etc. record everything humans do and see, with extraordinary insight into what they think. That data base becomes a tool for modifying behavior without conscious knowledge of its users.
Is the government’s suit against Google important? Shoshanna Zuboff implies it is monumentally important.
In Skinner’s view, freedom and dignity are a fiction. To Skinner, only behavior is currency for future peace and prosperity. That behavior can be conditioned by “the big other” in Skinner’s world.
In one sense, Skinner’s recognition of positive reinforcement’s value to society is exemplified by moguls like Henry Ford. Ford’s recognition of the value of raising wages for his workers (an operant conditioning reward) increases production and lowers product price.
Zuboff systematically builds her argument with the history of industrialization and the dramatic change it brought to society. Ford grew his fortune by positive reinforcement of worker’s higher wages and the public’s consumption of a lower cost product that revolutionized travel.
The credibility and threat of Zuboff’s argument is reinforced by George Bush’s accelerated invasion of privacy after 9/11, and Barack Obama’s use of technology from Google’s Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO, at the time) in his run for election.
One might also argue the rise of Donald Trump is a harbinger of the threat of “…Surveillance Capitalism”. Evidence suggests Trump’s election campaign drew on Russian surveillance of Hillary Clinton and political research from Cambridge Analytica to win election.
Cambridge Analytica provided detailed information on voters who agreed with the anti-science convictions of Donald Trump. They voted, and Trump won the election.
(As noted in Wikipedia.org–Analytica is a visual software package developed by Lumina Decision Systems for creating, analyzing and communicating quantitative decision models.)
Zuboff argues the principle of positive reinforcement takes a giant leap forward with the technology of “Capitalist Surveillance. Henry Ford’s personal insight is replaced by “the big other”. Potentially, every capitalist or government entity now has access to the details of everyone’s lives.
In a capitalist country, there is no singular controller but a multitude of public and private entities that manipulate human life like Skinner’s pigeons in a cage.
In a communist or fascist country personal surveillance easily slips into Orwell’s “1984”. Zuboff offers the example of the social categorization of Chinese residents by President Xi’s government. Assigning a number to a Chinese citizen capsulizes their support or opposition to communism. That number influences every aspect of that citizen’s success or failure in China.
Zuboff warns that tools for predicting future behavior are in the hands of “the big other”. Zuboff speaks from her personal experience with Skinner. Skinner was one of Zuboff’s professors during her college days. She infers today’s surveillance economies bend toward totalitarianism borne by behavioral reinforcement.
A fundamental question is: Do we have free will? Or as Skinner and Alex Pentland suggest are we just vessels for behavioral modification?
The other side of “Surveillance Capitalism” is the benefit offered to the general public by data compilation. There is a leveling of cost for consumer items because of pricing and consumer criticism gathered and distributed to the general public when buying a product or service. There is a value in being able to arrive at a destination on time without worrying about getting lost in the country or city. There is the ability to control utility use, and guard one’s house by using tech products like Google’s Nest. There is the potential of producing more product at cheaper price because of “Surveillance Capitalism”. The idea is similar to the way Ford grew his automobile company by rewarding employee behavior and producing lower priced product.
The question remains—what price are humans willing to pay for convenience?
The industrial revolution just as the technological revolution changed society. It seems fair to say the American standard of living has increased as a result of industrialization. Is there reason to believe the same may be true with a technological revolution that makes life easier but less private?
Zuboff questions the trade off but so did the Luddites when they destroyed machines that replaced craftsman. One cannot take Zuboff’s scholarly study lightly, but the genies of the tech revolution are out of the bottle.
If there is a such thing as free will, there seems no harm or foul. However, manipulating human behavior belies Google’s founder’s unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil”. (Interestingly, in April or May of 2018, Google abandoned the slogan.)
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates (American author & journalist, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction with–BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME).
This is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first book of fiction. What makes “The Water Dancer” a fiction is its hero’s mystic ability. He is a water dancer.
Coates’ story is a history that stains American conscience. It is about the tragic sequel of slavery. Slavery is introduced to America in the British colony of Virginia in the 17th century.
Though Virginia tobacco plantations were first created in the 17th century, Coates story is undoubtedly set in the early 19th when plantations were in decline. In 19th century Virginia, soil is depleted by poor farming practices and mismanagement. White property owners turned to sale of their slaves to pay their debts. The ugliness of slavery is compounded by the breakup of black families and friends that shared a common history. Though that history is blooded with servitude and violence, Coates illustrates how slaves created close-knit communities. They were close; in-spite of their sorrowful condition.
Just as soil depletion reduced plantation owner’s income, they increased sale of slaves to sustain their standard of living. Though black slaves had always been treated as property, the crash of the tobacco industry accelerated their sale.
(Thomas Jefferson is a prime example of an American slavery apologist who sold slaves to reduce debt.)
Sons, daughters, husbands, and wives were sold to other white slave holders. Many families were broken apart; some sent to other States after being sold; others escaped to the North.
Some were caught by slavers. Coates writes–runaway slaves were sometimes caught and thrown into makeshift prisons and sold back into slavery. In Coates’ story, prison is a hole in the ground for its hero. Hiram (Hi) is not sold back into slavery but tested for a critical role in the underground.
To compound the humiliation of being caught, Coates writes of slaves who betrayed their own race. Their purpose was to maintain some level of freedom from harsh conditions on the plantation.
Black women were subject to the whims of their owners. Women could be raped by their owners without repercussion, or sold to the Fancy industry, i.e. brothels.
Coates reveals the depth and breadth of what Philip Roth called a human stain, i.e., broadly known as discrimination. Slavery may have been abolished in 1865 but its institutionalization lives on in the 21st century. It is a stain that resists removal.
Murder of a black jogger , Ahmaud Arbery, on February 23, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. A white father and son are charged with murder on May 7th, 2020.
Coates’ story reveals much about America, the abolitionist movement, the growth of the underground, and the human toll of slavery. Coates suggests some wealthy white southerners participated in the underground to salve their conscience. They were heroes but they hid behind the degradation being felt every day by black Americans subject to an economic system based on slavery.
Coates shows how southern white abolitionists were important to the growth of the underground. Their role grew out of a first-hand view of human beings being treated as property.
Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900, Richmond, VA Abolitionist.)
Coates fills many gaps in the history of slavery by seeing it through the eyes of extraordinary slaves.
Harriet Tubman (American abolitionist who rescued an estimated 70 enslaved people. Unknown date of birth; Died in 1913.)
Families were torn apart, men and women were degraded by their enslavement, husbands had to cope with plantation owner abuse of their wives, blacks victimized their own people, and mothers suffered from guilt for the life their children had to live. These are irremovable stains on the American conscience; for both Black and White Americans–each are stained in their own way.
Michael Wysession (Lecturer, Professor of Earth and Plaentary Science at Washington University in St. Louis).
Professor Michael Wysession believes the origin of earth began with the “The Big Bang”. He explains how earth is in constant motion. Wysession implies “The Big Bang” reverberates today as evidence of its truth.
Most know some of the story of earth’s creation, destruction, and re-creation, but few know everything Wysession reveals. Yes, the world was once one large land mass amid a body of water that covered the earth. This land mass broke apart to become seven continents. What is surprising to some is that this singular land mass called Pangaea is only one of several land masses in earth’s history.
A precursor to Pangaea is Rodinia which is believed to have formed 1.3 to 1.23 billion years ago. Another singular land mass is Pannotia assembled 600 million years ago.
Rodinia (A super-continent long before Pangaea).
There were several super-continents before Pangaea. Each iteration of a singular land mass evolved over millions of years based on moving plate combinations and re-combinations. Wysession goes on to explain the theory of Plate Tectonics.
Contrary to the myth of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” there is no space at earth’s center. The center of earth is solid iron; surrounded by a molten nickel-iron alloy. Though the center of the earth is solid, it has movement but not like that experienced in the lithosphere.
Despite the great heat at earth’s center, its center is iron that is not liquefied. The geometric pressure of Earth’s interior overcomes lead’s liquefaction at its core
Wysession explains that geologists have found several (more than seven and less than twenty-four) plates that float within a layer of earth called the lithosphere. The lithosphere consists of the crust and upper mantle of earth. This crust and upper mantle cover a solid core made of iron that is super-heated by radioactivity.
Wysession notes the core of earth moves with pressures exerted by changes in the lithosphere. Plate Tectonics affect earth’s molten nickel-iron alloy and its solid core. Earth is always in a state of motion; often imperceptible to the eye but always moving.
Wysession explains how everything on earth moves but at different speeds. Even the hardest and largest rocks move over time.
Wind can be a tornado or a breeze. Water can be a gentle rain or a tsunami. Rocks erode over centuries of wind and rain, but instantly break in avalanches. Humans may think they are standing still, but the earth constantly moves in a circle and hurdles deeper into the universe as a small part of a galaxy. Nothing on earth is at rest.
Wysession notes how apocryphal stories in the bible may be founded on the truth of earth’s history. The threat of subduction in a tectonic plate could explain the legend of Atlantis or the parting of the “Red Sea” in the time of Moses.
Wysession notes there are three types of faults that cause earthquakes. There is a divergent fault, a convergent fault, and a transform fault. The first is one that has two plates the move away from each other with molten rock plugging the gap. The second is when two plates collide but one rushes beneath another, or if equal in size, create a mountain at the collision point. The third is like the San Adreas Fault in California where tectonic plates rub against each other.
Wysession notes any plate movement can be disastrous and kill many people, but a transform fault shakes the earth while a convergent fault makes land disappear (subduct) or rise like a mountain.
A frightening observation by Wysession is the difference between the tectonic faults in the La-San Francisco corridor and Seattle, Washington.
Both are at risk of earthquakes, but Seattle’s plate tectonics are convergent faults while San Franciso/LA’s are transform faults.
Wysession’s observation on the difference in these faults suggests the geological change in Seattle from an earthquake will be much greater than in the LA-San Francisco area. Deaths will be equally catastrophic but the change in topography will be geometrically greater in Seattle.
Wysession continues with a detailed lecture on volcanic eruptions.
Anyone who lived in Washington when Mt. St. Helens erupted will confirm Wysession’s explanation of volcanic events. Living in eastern Washington when that eruption occurred makes one fully appreciate Wysession’s lecture. Over 200 miles from the eruption, a beautiful summer day turns into night. (It was like a biblical event.)
You cannot see a hand in front of your face in a few hours after St. Helen’s eruption. Cars are covered in fine flakes of ash. Everyone with any sense stays indoors because unfiltered air is unbreathable.
There seems a surprise in every Wysession’ lecture. Things we did not know or fully appreciate are pointed out. There is the incredible power in earth’s weakest force, better known as gravity, that creates and destroys the universe.
We see the deterioration of monuments of granite from centuries of weathering and the force of gravity. Rocks fall down, the face of the earth changes, deserts are formed, and jungles evolve. But, we fail to comprehend the eternal change of our world because of geological time frames, and our short lived lives.
Today we worry about destruction of forests in Brazil because of the loss of carbon dioxide eating trees. We fail to realize the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, and jungles of the rain forest do not have enough organic material in their soil to grow food to sustain life. We underestimate the critical impact of a dwindling potable water supply.
The last chapters of Wysession’s lectures deal with climate change and the impact of geological change on the history of humankind.
Like many science specialists, Wysession’s claim that a principle cause of revolutions and other world events is closely related to geological events. It is a somewhat plausible argument but it fails to recognize the political will of those who are discontented with the status quo
Wysession assesses the worlds use of energy and concludes alternative energy sources will replace carbon based pollutants. He suggests harnessing the geological sources of natural energy like the sun, wind, and ocean currents. They offer plausible replacements for the earth’s dwindling supplies of coal, oil, and gas. However, Wysession thinks in geological time and believes humans have the capacity to innovate their way out of a sixth extinction. One hopes Wysession is right, but what if he is not?
One tends to be skeptical when leaders can arbitrarily change the momentum of environmental change.
There is a great deal more in this 24 hour and 31-minute lecture series. On the one hand it is revelatory; on the other, it reinforces a belief that human life’s continuation is a chance as much as a choice.
Simon Winchester (English author, National Book Award Winner for Non Fiction)
Simon Winchester’s book begins with a “bang”. It comes from a hand gun brandished by Dr. William Chester Minor (1834 to 1920)
Minor arbitrarily murders George Merrett on a London suburban street in 1871.
Minor is an American civil war surgeon who lived through the “battle of the Wilderness”. An innocent and unsuspecting Englishman is shot dead by Minor in a small town near London.
Surprisingly, this random murder is the beginning of a brief history of the Oxford Dictionary. Dr. Minor is “…the Madman”. “The Professor…” is James Murray, a lexicographer, principally responsible for the completion and final editing of the first Oxford English Dictionary.
Winchester reveals how an intelligent young physician’s life evolves from an American civil war surgeon to murderer to skilled etymologist (an expert in word origins). He describes how Minor’s criminal madness isolates him.
After trial for murder, and conviction, Minor is sent to an English insane asylum to serve his sentence. Minor, a Yale graduate, uses his incarceration (when not debilitated by paranoid delusions) to read books.
After “The Professor and the Mad Man” ‘s murderous opening, Winchester recounts the early history of dictionaries; dating back to the 17th century.
Winchester touches on the first Oxford dictionary created by Samuel Johnson in 1755. In 1857, over 100 years after Johnson’s original English dictionary, a speech is given at the London Library.
Richard Trench suggests a new, more comprehensive, Oxford English Dictionary (to become known as the OED) should be created. This monumental undertaking is estimated to take two years in Trench’s opinion. It takes over sixty.
Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886, Irish Poet, Anglican archbishop)
The editor who completes the dictionary is James Murray. Murray becomes a lynch pin reputational resurrection of William Chester Minor. Minor’s resurrection is tied to his voracious reading habit.
James Murray (1837-1915, Scottish lexicographer and philogist.)
Methodology for the OED’s reification relies on past dictionaries and volunteers. Volunteers are recruited via flyers and letters asking for readers to glean words and quotes from books written in particular periods of time; for example, books written from 1200 to 1300.
W.C. Minor receives one of these flyers at the asylum. He responds and becomes an important source of information for the Dictionary.
Minor establishes correspondence with editors of the compendium and begins delivering some of the detail needed to complete the book for publication. It gives his life a focus that partially mitigates his madness.
Murray takes the helm 22 years after former editors earlier work to update Samuel Johnson’s master work. Five years after Murray’s appointment, the first publication is made. It covers A through Ant in 352 pages.
Perhaps the most productive editor of the dictionary is Professor James Murray.
OED first edition by James Murray.
Winchester goes on to describe the odd first meeting between Minor and Murray. Murray has no idea that Minor is in an insane asylum. Minor is housed 60 miles from Murray’s editing facility, the Scriptorium. Several versions of the meeting are reported.
Minor is eventually repatriated to the United States from his asylum incarceration in England (interestingly because of Winston Churchill’s intervention) but he dies ignominiously.
Ironically, according to Winchester, the source of W.C. Minor’s story are George Merrett’s descendants (the murder victim’s family).
Dr. William Chester Minor
Insanity is not a crime. It is also not necessarily the end of one’s contribution to society.
The Oxford English Dictionary was finally completed in 1927, nearly 70 years after its conception.
T Kira Madden’s memoir is a non-fiction account of her life. This memoir may reach beyond America. It rings true for many children wherever they are raised. Madden is the child of a philandering father; mostly raised by her mother, but deeply connected to her father.
Madden’s father is never far from her thoughts but frequently gone from her presence.
Her journey to adulthood is difficult. Children can love their parents with “Leave it to Beaver” ideals, but in the midst of a chaotic family life, Madden shows children’s lives are scarred. Many American children are affected by parental absence, and conflict. In childhood’s journey, physical and mental abuse between parents affects a child’s view of the world. Their place in it is confused, indeterminate, and seriously affected by the way parents behave. Madden tells the story of those conflicts in her memoir.
Sometimes parental absence is because of working
parents. Other times, it is because of the
personal lives’ parents live. In Madden’s case it is more of the former than
the latter. Madden’s father works in an undisclosed
profession and makes a good deal of money but is absent for long periods of
time. As Madden finds later, part of her
father’s absence is because of another family. He is the husband and father of a
different wife and children.
Both of Madden’s parents are recovering addicts. Madden’s parents fall into what she calls “sleepy time” when they over-indulge. At times, her father physically abuses her mother. Her father’s other family may suffer some of the same effects but that is not the focus of Madden’s memoir. This is Madden’s life story; not her father’s, and not the family she had yet to meet. Madden recounts meeting with her father’s other family as an epilogue at the end of her story.
Madden’s story begins with the purchase of a male mannequin as a substitute father. The mannequin is a symbol of male presence. It offers a kind of security when mother and child are at home alone. It is something more to Madden. That “more” is a reflection on the title of her book.
To a father, Madden’s memoir is heart breaking. Men are frequently indiscriminate in their relationships. Often, they have little concern for the consequences of their action.
Men spread their seed and sometimes walk away. Women are stuck with the most difficult decision of their lives-raising or giving up their child.
Women are always left with the major decisions of life when they become pregnant. Fathers can leave or stay. Women can never leave. Women stay with a decision to abort, adopt, or single-parent a yet to be born child. The reality of staying is a physical and mental trial for women; pending a life sentence. For men, if there is a sentence, it is limited to guilt and an uncertain, and frequently ignored, financial penalty.
“Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls” implies an abusive or profligate father is a bump in the road; rather than a tragedy.
Madden shows a child can survive the worst a broken family can do and become something better. Madden’s story begs the question of how many children of single parents are unable to meet the challenges of a neglectful father, and how many of those children are life’s casualties?
The Unwomanly Face of War–An Oral History of Women in World War
Svetlana Alexievich, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
by Julia Emelin, Yelena Shmulenson
Svetlana Alexievich (Author, Belorussian Investigative Journalist, 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature–for her polyphonic writings.)
The author of “The Unwomanly Face of War”, Svetlana Alexievich, suggests women’s deployment in war dates to the Greco-Roman wars. However, some say Russia is the first nation to deploy women as combat troops. History shows Russia enlisted women as a fighting force in WWI.
“The Unwomanly Face of War” notes nearly 1,000,000 women joined the Russian military to defeat the German armies in WWII.
Alexievich interviews former WWII Russian women as pilots, snipers, mine clearing commanders, and military tank leaders. Some were as young as 13; others in their late teens or early 20’s when they joined. At the time of the interviews, all were in their 50’s or older. By any definition, these Russian women were combat troops.
This is a particularly timely release of a translation of “The Unwomanly Face of War”. In western nations, as early as the 1940 s, the role of women in the military has been in transition.
Most countries recognize the immense contribution “women in war” have made since WWI. However, the WWII veterans in Russia’s battles were not fully recognized until the 1950s.
What Alexievich offers is a peek into what Russian women in combat experienced during WWII. She identifies similarities and differences military men and women experience in war. To listeners of Alexievich’s interviews, similarities appear much greater than the differences.
The preeminent common characteristic among combat troops is nationalism. Whether man or woman, the belief in the sovereignty of one’s country supersedes gender. The disgust for an invading country and its military is equally reviled.
Alexievich suggests women feel the atrocity of war more than men because women bare and raise children. She argues women are more nurturing and emotion driven than men.
However, her interviews recount two events that would equally engage and enrage men as women.
Two interviews reveal a mother’s decision to sacrifice her children. One circumstance is for a mother to quiet a crying child by infanticide because of an approaching German troop. The second is a mother who has her child carry a bomb into a military mess hall to kill the enemy as well as the sacrificed child. How does maternal instinct differ from the worst actions taken by men?
The human response to war seems as brutally evident in
women as men. The trauma of war seems to
be absorbed in similar ways. War
experience is something never forgotten, and often repressed. There seems little difference among the sexes
based on Alexievich’s interviews of WWII women veterans.
Another example that seems more of a provisioning than
sex difference is the reality of menstruation and how it is to be dealt with in
combat circumstances. With proper
provisioning the difference between the sexes seems miniscule.
Another circumstance alluded to is the physical strength differences between the sexes. The circumstance recalled is a woman tank commander who cannot physically rescue an injured tank soldier because she is unable to lift him out of the tank.
Pulling dead weight is a limit for men as well as women. Though the average strength differences might be true between all men and all women, brute strength is an extraordinary need in war; not a common requirement. If one person is not enough to move a wounded soldier, he/she gets help.
“The Unwomanly Face of War” addresses the reality of conjugal sex in war. War is little different than life in the civilized world when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Alexievich recounts affections that rise between men and women in the field of war. One can appreciate exaggerated interdependence when one’s life is at stake. Maybe there is a difference, but the difference seems more of imagination than reality. Peace has its own way of corrupting the relationship between men and women. One must question how different the battle between the sexes is in war than in peace.
Common purpose brings the sexes together in both war and peace. When common purpose is absent, the sexes battle for their personal interests. What distorts the battle is power.
History suggests power more often lies with men than women whether in civilian or military life. Until there is equalization in power, the potential for fairness among the sexes is unlikely.
Whether in war or peace, sexual orientation is subject to inequality. The only remedy is a set of rules and regulations judiciously enforced.
One will draw their own conclusion about the role of
women in war after listening to “The Unwomanly Face of War”. Whether in a time of war or peace, what is
incontestable is unequal treatment of women
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Karen Chilton
MICHELLE ALEXANDER (AUTHOR, CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATE, VISITING PROFESSOR AT UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY)
Multicultural societies are threatened by closed minds. Michelle Alexander pulls no punches in explaining how American minds are not exempt. From both conscious and subconscious actions, people who are perceived as different are treated unequally.
America, like most (if not all) nations, is a failed egalitarian state. From its early history, America has striven to mitigate inequality but with mixed results, and only marginal successes.
This is not to suggest America is less egalitarian than most nations but that unregulated human nature is a danger to all nations. Witness the murderous regimes of Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and more recently, al Assad in Syria.
Two police officers are shot during a public protest over the police shooting of Breonna Taylor (a police raid’s innocent bystander). Where does this end? Public policy failures should not be used as an excuse for violence. No one wins, everyone loses.
Money, power, and prestige corrupt every nation’s leaders; whether well or poorly educated. America is different from many nations because society is subject to a system of checks and balances. However, checks and balances have not saved America from discrimination and inequality.
As memorialized in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment (which requires equality of all before the law) America attempts to treat all people equally. America succeeds in principle and fails in practice.
Though the American mind is willing, the will fails to support the mind. Alexander notes how some laws passed by the American government purposely, and sometimes inadvertently, undermine the Constitutional guarantees of equality for all.
The veil of which Dubois is speaking is the real affect of American laws and customs on black Americans. It is the same veil one sees in history that is written by victors; not the defeated.
Examples of unequal treatment are noted by Alexander. She exposes the insidious affects of the war on drugs and America’s “3 strikes law” that disproportionately affect the poor; particularly those raised in black communities.
Alexander reflects on America’s failure to address root causes of crime—like unemployment, inadequate medical care, poor education, and racial discrimination. She suggests those failures are exemplified by “…New Jim Crow” laws. Her point is that “…New Jim Crow” laws are re-hatched by the War on Drugs and “3 strikes law”.
Jim Crow laws segregated the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. Her argument is that today’s Jim Crow laws are like Dubois’s explanation of the veil of American acts of conscience. It is a veil in the guise of fighting crime.
No one wants crime; whether poor or rich. The author does not argue that fewer violent crimes occur in poor communities. She acknowledges more violent crimes occur in poor communities. But, poor communities, like all communities, abhor the reality of violent crime.
Whether poor or not, all want protection from violence. No one wants to see their family threatened. Those truths make the policies of the War on Drugs and 3 strikes appealing to most Americans. Alexander’s point is these well meaning policies do not address the root causes of crime. They attempt to treat symptoms rather than offer cures. In treating the symptoms, the underlying causes remain untouched and ever virulent.
Alexander suggests the war on drugs and “3 strikes law” are a return of Jim Crow laws that segregated the Southern United States.
The War on Drugs and 3 strikes neglect the reality of living in poor neighborhoods. Poor neighborhoods resort to drug use and sale because it is the only job available, or often the only way of escaping the reality of being trapped in a circle of despair.
When a person is convicted of a violent crime, manufacture or sale of drugs, or minor drug charges, they are marked for life.
Job applications ask if they have ever been convicted of a crime. If the answer is yes, most are left with poor prospects for employment or advancement. No effort is made to rehabilitate but only to isolate. Once a criminal, always a criminal.
America chooses not to spend money to educate the young in poor school districts. America chooses to ignore the circumstances of drug addiction or the need for medical treatment. Crime is a zero-sum game with no treatment for the psychologically disturbed. Little investment is made in rehabilitation or re-introduction into society for the first-time offender.
The drug laws and “3 strikes law” dis-proportionally fall on the poor and black as evidenced by America’s prison population. Alexander argues the real effect of these laws is the same as the historic Jim Crow laws. They segregate minorities from the dominate American culture.
Alexander’s book is difficult for some to read because it denies the universality of the American Dream. What is forgotten is how much the luck of race and circumstance play in everyone’s life. Equally forgotten is the good for those in power is not always good for those without power.
Dubois and Alexander have something in common. Minds must be kept open to the truth. Empathy is needed by both those in power and those without power. Trust must come from both sides of any power structure.
No singularly elected person or autocrat will unwind history’s discrimination. Respect for difference and rule of law are the best one can expect. With respect and rule of law, equal opportunity is possible.
Police who brutalize the poor are as guilty of crime as the poor who victimize the rich. Each needs to put themselves in the other’s shoes to understand their own closed mindedness.
With better understanding of ourselves and others, more will be done to constructively address public policy failures. The alternative is increased cultural deterioration, discontent, and violence.